Hughes v. Social Security Administration
ORDER affirming the decision of the Commissioner and dismissing the 2 Complaint filed by Sandra Hughes. Signed by Judge D. P. Marshall Jr. on 11/15/13. (kpr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
SANDRA JOY HUGHES
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
Hughes seeks disability benefits. She says she quit working at a gas
station convenience store because she couldn't stock the cooler or deal with
the public. She claims herniated cervical discs, carpal tunnel syndrome,
fibromyalgia, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder prevent her from
The Commissioner's ALJ identified obesity, personality disorder, and
degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine as severe impairments. The
ALJ determined Hughes can do some light work, which included her past
work as a housekeeper. Because a person who can do her past work isn't
disabled, the ALJ denied Hughes's application. Hughes appeals. Considering
supporting and contrary evidence, this Court must determine whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision. Prosch v. Apfel,
201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000).
Hughes challenges the ALJ' s evaluation of her credibility. She says the
ALJ failed to apply the required factors or explain why her allegations are
inconsistent with the evidence. According to Hughes, the ALJ relied on
generic inconsistency with the medical evidence to justify the evaluation.
An ALJ has a duty to assess the claimant's credibility. Nelson v. Sullivan,
966 F.2d 363, 366 (8th Cir. 1992). To assess Hughes's credibility, the ALJ
followed the required two-step process and considered the regulatory factors.
See SSR 96-7p.
The question before the Court, therefore, is whether
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's credibility evaluation.
It does. A reasonable mind would accept the evidence as adequate to
show that Hughes over-stated her pain and limitation. See Britton v. Sullivan,
908 F.2d 328,330 (8th Cir. 1990). Hughes alleges disabling impairment in all
exertional and non-exertional functions, but little medical evidence supports
her allegations. The most probative evidence is diagnostic imaging showing
a herniated disc in the neck, "[l]ikely" causing nerve root compression.
Although nerve root compression can cause chronic neck pain, Hughes
sought only episodic care for neck pain. Episodic care does not suggest
disabling pain. A person insured under Medicaid, as Hughes was, would,
most likely, seek more than episodic treatment if she experienced disabling
pain and limitations.
The diagnostic imaging also shows two bulging discs. But those bulges
have little evidentiary value because a damaged or diseased disc does not
necessarily mean a person will have pain or other symptoms. 1 The diagnostic
imaging showed no further nerve root compression and no stenosis. Hughes
reported that neuropathic pain medication "helped her neck pain
tremendously." The ALJ ordered a consultative exam to ascertain Hughes's
physical condition, and the agency examiner found no limitations. In short,
nothing substantiates Hughes's allegations of disabling physical impairment.
Hughes also alleged disability based on mental impairment-anxiety,
memory loss, inability to concentrate, and fear of the public. The ALJ ordered
a mental diagnostic examination to identify mental impairment. During that
See RICHARD M. PATTERSON,2 LAWYERS' MED. CYCLOPEDIA§ 16.9[C]
(6th ed. 2013) ("Whether a patient experiences discomfort from the disc
disease depends on ... canal, and foramen size, as well as the percentage of
disc herniated.); 2 DAN J. TENNENHOUSE, ATTORNEYS MED. DESKBOOK §
24:17 III (4th ed. 2006) ("Protruded disks usually cause no symptoms."); 2
LAWYERS' MED. CYCLOPEDIA§ 16.9[B] (explaining that a disc "protrusion
may or may not compress the spinal cord or nerve roots, causing
neurological symptoms and signs.").
exam, Hughes demonstrated no difficulty in comprehending and carrying out
simple tasks. The examiner reported that Hughes may be mildly limited in
coping with typical demands of basic work tasks, but reported no limitations
in communicating, concentrating, or persisting.
Hughes sought periodic treatment for anxiety and panic attacks; she
reported improvement with psychotropic drugs. "An impairment which can
be controlled by treatment or medication is not considered disabling." Estes
v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722,725 (8th Cir. 2002). A reasonable mind would accept
the evidence as adequate to show Hughes can work within the ALJ' s
limitations- incidental interpersonal contact, one-to-two step work, little
judgment required, simple and direct supervision, and few changes in work
The ALJ could have better explained why the record fails to support
Hughes's allegations, but the ALJ doesn't have to methodically discuss each
regulatory factor. Lowe v. Apfel, 226 F.3d 969, 972 (8th Cir. 2000). The ALJ
acknowledged and examined the required considerations before discounting
Hughes's subjective complaints. The ALJ did not err in evaluating credibility.
The Court need not dwell on Hughes's argument about the hypothetical
question because the argument flows from alleged impairments.
hypothetical question must capture the concrete consequences of the
claimant's impairments, but not alleged impairments. Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d
962,966 (8th Cir. 2001). The hypothetical question in this case captured the
concrete consequences of Hughes's impairments consistent with the evidence.
The Court affirms the decision denying Hughes's application.
D.P. Marshall Jr.'
United States District Judge
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