Offutt v. Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER affirming the final determination of the Commissioner. The oral argument hearing scheduled for February 19, 2015, at 10:00 a.m. is canceled. Ms. Offutt's 2 complaint is hereby dismissed with prejudice. Signed by Magistrate Judge Beth Deere on 1/27/2015. (ks)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CHERYL ANN OFFUTT
CASE NO. 4:14CV258-BD
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Cheryl Ann Offutt has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration to deny her claim for supplemental security income.
Both parties have submitted appeal briefs and the case is ready for decision.1
The Court’s function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner’s
decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and free of legal
error. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009); Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185,
187 (8th Cir. 1997); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g). Substantial evidence is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Reynolds v. Chater, 82 F.3d 254, 257
(8th Cir. 1996). In assessing the substantiality of the evidence, the Court has considered
evidence that detracts from the Commissioner’s decision as well as evidence that supports
The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge. (Docket
Ms. Offutt alleged she became limited in her ability to work by arthritis, heart
problems, and breathing problems. (SSA record at p. 75) After conducting an
administrative hearing, the Administrative Law Judge2 (ALJ) concluded that Ms. Offutt
had not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any time
through April 19, 2013, the date of his decision. (Id. at 31) On March 28, 2014, the
Appeals Council denied the request for a review of the ALJ’s decision, making the ALJ’s
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 1-3) Ms. Offutt then filed her
complaint initiating this appeal. (Docket #2)
Ms. Offutt was 55 years old at the time of the hearing. (SSA record at 41) She
attended school through the tenth grade. (Id.) At the time of the hearing she lived with a
friend. (Id.) She had past relevant work as a clothing presser and a housekeeper. (Id. at
The ALJ found that Ms. Offutt had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since August 29, 2011, the application date. (Id. at 13) He found that Ms. Offutt had
“severe” impairments: hypertension; a history of supraventricular tachycardia; mild
degenerative change in the right knee and very mild degenerative change in the left knee;
costochondritis; generalized anxiety disorder; mood disorder NOS; cognitive disorder
NOS; and borderline intellectual functioning. (Id. at 14) He found she did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled a Listing. (Id. at 14-16)
The Honorable Mark Schafer.
He judged that Ms. Offutt’s allegations regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of her symptoms were not totally credible. (Id. at 17-29)
Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Offutt retained the residual
functional capacity for medium work, but could only occasionally stoop, crouch, kneel,
crawl, and balance. He also found her to be unable to climb ladders, scaffolds or ropes,
and unable to work from unprotected heights. In addition, she would have to avoid
excessive exposure to dust, smoke, fumes and other pulmonary irritants, and could
perform only simple, routine, repetitive tasks where the supervision required is simple,
direct and concrete. (Id. at 16)
Based on testimony from a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ concluded that Ms.
Offutt could perform her past relevant work as a clothing presser and housekeeper but
could also perform other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy.3 (Id. at 30-31) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Offutt was not disabled. (Id.
Ms. Offutt complains that the ALJ’s credibility determination is not supported by
substantial evidence. Specifically, she argues that the ALJ based his credibility
determination solely on her history of substance abuse. (Docket entry #11 at p. 9)
The VE identified two jobs that a person with Ms. Offutt’s limitations could
perform – parts assembler and cafeteria attendant. (Id. at 27)
To evaluate Ms. Offutt’s credibility, the ALJ followed the required two-step
process and considered the required factors.4 (SSA record at pp. 17-29) See Policy
Interpretation Ruling Titles II & XVI: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims:
Assessing the Credibility of an Individual's Statements, SSR 96-7p (July 2, 1996). Thus,
the question before the court is whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s
evaluation of Ms. Offutt’s credibility.
The ALJ may discount a claimant’s complaints of pain if they are inconsistent with
the evidence as a whole. Dunahoo v. Apfel, 241 F.3d 1033, 1038 (8th Cir. 2001);
Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 418 (8th Cir. 1996). Here, the ALJ acknowledged Ms.
Offutt’s admitted history of substance abuse and her testimony that she had used drugs to
treat her pain. Id. at 17. He did not base his credibility determination, however, solely on
her history of substance abuse.
The ALJ found that the medical evidence as a whole did not support the degree of
limitation alleged by Ms. Offutt. He noted Ms. Offutt’s complaints of heart problems,
anxiety attacks, mood swings, hypertension, respiratory or breathing problems, and
arthritis. (Id. at 18-19) The ALJ reviewed Ms. Offutt’s medical records in detail and
In considering the credibility of a claimant’s subjective complaints, an ALJ must
consider: (1) the claimant's prior work record; (2) observations by third parties and
treating and examining physicians relating to such matters as: (a) the claimant's daily
activities; (b) the duration, frequency and intensity of the pain; (c) precipitating and
aggravating factors; (d) dosage, effectiveness and side effects of medication; and (e)
functional restrictions. Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984).
determined that the medical findings were inconsistent with disabling pain. SSA record
at 21-29. Substantial evidence supports his determination.
Dr. Randolph performed a consulting examination of Ms. Offutt in November,
2011, and found that she had normal range of motion in all joints, full limb function but
with pain in the toes with heel-toe walk, and knee/back pain when squatting. (Id. at 25860) He diagnosed chest pain with a questionable history of irregular heart rhythm,
arthritis, and hypertension. (Id. at 260) He concluded Ms. Offutt had mild limitation in
pushing, pulling, heavy lifting, climbing, and squatting. (Id.)
The ALJ also considered the records of Ms. Offutt’s treatment for chest pain and
breathing difficulties. X-rays of her chest did not reveal evidence of acute disease, and a
spirometry test was normal. (Id. at 291, 298)
The ALJ considered Ms. Offutt’s complaints of knee pain, but noted that an x-ray
of Ms. Offutt’s knees showed “very minimal changes of osteoarthritis.” (Id. at 324)
On December 17, 2011, Steven Strode, M.D., a state agency physician, found that
Ms. Offutt had the ability to perform medium work with limitations on climbing ladders,
crouching, and concentrated exposure to fumes. (Id. at 310) On February 21, 2012,
Sharon Keith, M.D., reviewed the medical evidence and affirmed Dr. Strode’s
assessment. (Id. at 328)
On February, 2012, Ms. Offutt was taken to the hospital after experiencing several
falls. Her son reported she had taken a Valium and consumed alcohol. A CT scan of Ms.
Offutt’s brain was normal. (Id. at 357) A CT of her spine showed degenerative changes
most pronounced at C5-C6, a combination of posterior bony osteophyte formation and
bilateral Luschka joint disease. (Id. at 358) Chest x-rays revealed no pleural effusions
with heart size within normal limits, but showed some evidence of bilateral prominence
of the hilar region. The interpreting physician recommended a comparison with prior
chest x-rays. (Id. at 359)
During a visit to Baptist Health Medical Center (Baptist) in June 2012, Ms. Offutt
complained of chest pain, and was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).
(Id. at 489) She underwent a successful radiofrequency ablation. (Id. at 490) At a
follow-up visit on June 26, 2012, Jeffrey Neuhauser, D.O., noted that Ms. Offutt’s SVT
was causing no symptoms, and she had no evidence of recurrent SVT. (Id. at 716)
Ms. Offutt complained of left leg pain following the procedure, but the ALJ noted
a venous Doppler study of her left, lower leg was normal, and there was no deep vein
thrombosis. (Id. 26, 758) An ECG of Ms. Offutt performed on June 26, 2012, was
normal and her SVT was “asymptomatic.” (Id. at 732)
During a visit to Baptist August 2, 2012, she complained of chest pain. (Id. at
751). On examination, her breathing was normal; she had tenderness in her left chest; she
had normal range of motion; no edema; no tenderness; no clubbing or cyanosis; no
swelling erythema warmth or mass in the left groin area; and her distal motor and sensory
function was intact. (Id. at 749) Lori Bacon, M.D., diagnosed chest wall pain and lower
limb pain and prescribed Naproxen/Vicodin. (Id. at 751) A chest x-ray was normal. (Id.
at 757) A CT showed no evidence of pulmonary embolus or other acute pulmonary
finding. The main, left, and right pulmonary arteries were enlarged, but it was noted that
a “[h]istorical correlation as to the presence of primary pulmonary arterial hypertension
should be made.” (Id. at 757) A venous Doppler of the left lower extremity was normal
with “[n]o deep vein thrombosis.” (Id. at 758)
On January 10, 2013, a week before her administrative hearing, Ms. Offutt
returned to Baptist complaining of chest pain, pain in her groin, difficulty sleeping, and
dizziness. (Id. at 799) There was no evidence of recurrence of her SVT since her
ablation; a nuclear scan and ECG were normal. (Id. at 799-800) Dr. Neuhauser
diagnosed unspecified chest pain. (Id. at 800)
The ALJ considered multiple instances in the record when Ms. Offutt denied
substance abuse. She denied abusing drugs during a June, 2012 visit to Baptist, but a
drug screen performed during the visit indicated that Ms. Offutt was positive for cocaine,
methamphetamine, and Benzodiazepine. (Id. at 490, 497). She was given a list of
rehabilitation programs that required self submission. (Id.)
James R. Moneypenny, Ph.D., performed a mental evaluation of Ms. Offutt. At
the examination, Ms. Offutt told Dr. Moneypenny that she had no history of substance
abuse, but then later, at the administrative hearing, admitted she had not been truthful.
(Id. at 22, 67, 265) At the administrative hearing, Ms. Offutt testified that her daily use of
methamphetamine did not affect her ability to work. (Id. at 54)
Further, in assessing credibility, the ALJ considered not only the medical record
but also Ms. Offutt’s activities of daily living, including her reports that she worked for
thirty years as a bartender and reports to treating and consulting sources that she had
provided in-home care for the person she lived with. (Id. at 67-68, 264, 497) Ms. Offutt
claimed depression and anxiety, but failed to seek treatment for her allegedly disabling
mental impairments. (Id. 26-27) These are all factors that an ALJ may properly consider
when making a credibility determination, and there is substantial evidence in the record to
support the ALJ’s credibility determination. Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th
Ms. Offutt complains that the ALJ did not account for her “extremely low
intellectual level” and low Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score. (Docket
entry #11 at p. 9-11) As support for her contention, Ms. Offutt points to the consulting
report of James R. Moneypenny, M.D., who found that Ms. Offutt had borderline
intellectual functioning and a GAF score of 50. (SSA record at 263-69)
The ALJ considered Ms. Offutt’s mental functioning in activities of daily living;
social functioning; concentration persistence, and pace; and episodes of decompensation.
(Id. at 14-16) Additionally, he discussed in detail the consultative examination performed
by Dr. Moneypenny.
Dr. Moneypenny noted that Ms. Offutt described symptoms of anxiety and
depression. (Id. at 267) He diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder; mood disorder,
NOS; cognitive disorder, NOS; and borderline intellectual functioning. He found that she
was “unable to tolerate the presence of people and adapts by isolating herself,” but
otherwise that she was independent and self-sufficient. (Id.)
Dr. Moneypenny noted that, during the examination, Ms. Offutt was able to
express herself clearly and communicate in an intelligible and effective manner. (Id. at
268) He found that she had a fair to poor ability to handle stress and poor adaptive
resources, ability to concentrate on basic tasks, and capacity to complete school or worklike tasks within an acceptable time-frame. (Id.)
Ms. Offutt complains that the ALJ did not properly consider Dr. Moneypenny’s
diagnosis of borderline intellectual functioning. The ALJ acknowledged Dr.
Moneypenny’s finding of borderline intellectual functioning, but also noted Dr.
Moneypenny’s statement that Ms. Offutt’s educational and developmental history and her
adaptive functioning were not consistent with mental retardation. (Id. at 22, 266) The
ALJ pointed that out Ms. Offutt had not repeated any grades in school, had attended
regular classes, had taught herself to be a bartender and had worked as one for thirty
years. (Id. at 22-23, 264-65) Further, Ms. Offutt was able to care for her own personal
needs, communicate adequately, drive, and perform household chores such as laundry and
preparing meals. (Id. at 19-21, 264-66)
The ALJ also noted that Ms. Offutt reported to Dr. Moneypenny she was not
taking any medication and had never received mental health treatment. She also reported
that she was living with a person who had hired her as a care giver and that she had last
worked at a nursing home, but had “gotten tired of that work setting.” (Id. at 264) This
evidence supports the ALJ’s conclusion that Ms. Offutt was capable of performing
The ALJ also discussed the reports of the State agency consultants who found that
Ms. Offutt’s mental impairments did not preclude her from performing a limited range of
medium work. State agency consultant Cheryl Woodson-Johnson, Psy.D., reviewed Ms.
Offutt’s records and concluded she did not have marked limitation in any area; had a
cognitive disorder, NOS; mood disorder, NOS; and an anxiety related disorder. (273285) Dr. Woodson-Johnson concluded that Ms. Offutt had the ability to engage in workrelated activities that are simple to complex; that she could adhere to a schedule and
complete workweek requirements, but that she might be more comfortable in an
environment where her contact with others is minimized. (Id. at 274) Abesie Kelly,
Ph.D., reviewed Ms. Offutt’s records on January 25, 2012, and affirmed Dr. WoodsonJohnson’s opinion. (Id. at 318-21)
Ms. Offutt also complains that the ALJ did not properly consider the GAF score
of 50 assigned by Dr. Moneypenny. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders (4th ed.) (“DSM–IV”), published by the American Psychiatric Association,
states that a GAF score of 41 to 50 generally indicates serious impairment in social,
occupational, or school functioning. (DSM–IV 32) The DSM–IV, however, is a
classification of mental disorders that was developed for use in clinical, educational, and
research settings. Specific diagnostic criteria included in the DSM–IV are meant to serve
as guidelines to augment clinical judgment and are not meant to be used in a cookbook
fashion. A GAF score does not have a direct correlation to the severity requirements in
mental disorders listings. 65 Fed.Reg. 50746, 50764–65 (2000).
Here, the ALJ acknowledged Ms. Offutt’s GAF score but adequately explained
why it was not controlling. (Id. 22-23) He considered the score along with other
evidence in the record. He did not err by declining to give the score greater weight than
he did. See Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 972-74 (8th Cir. 2010) (ALJ may afford
greater weight to medical evidence and testimony than to GAF scores when the evidence
requires it). There is ample support for the ALJ’s conclusion that Dr. Moneypenny’s
opinion was entitled to limited weight.
Finally, Ms. Offutt complains that the ALJ did not pose a hypothetical to the
vocational expert that encompassed all of her “relevant impairments.” “The hypothetical
question must capture the concrete consequences of the claimant’s deficiencies.
However, the ALJ may exclude any alleged impairments . . . properly rejected as untrue
or unsubstantiated.” Perkins v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 892, 901–02 (8th Cir. 2011); see also
Lacroix v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 881, 889–90 (8th Cir. 2006) (“[T]he hypothetical question
need not frame the claimant’s impairments in the specific diagnostic terms used in
medical reports, but instead should capture the ‘concrete consequences' of those
Here, the ALJ questioned a vocational expert about the availability of work for a
person who could perform medium work requiring only occasional stooping, crouching,
kneeling, crawling, and balancing; excluding work on ladders, scaffolding, ropes, and
unprotected heights; and limited to simple routine, repetitive tasks with supervision which
is simple, direct and concrete. (SSA record at 64) Because these limitations captured the
concrete consequences of Ms. Offutt’s impairments, the ALJ’s question was proper. The
vocational expert found that Ms. Offutt could perform her past relevant work as a
clothing presser and housekeeper and identified two other unskilled jobs as representative
work. (Id. at 63-65) The vocational expert’s testimony shows that work existed that Ms.
Offutt could perform. Because such work existed, Ms. Offutt was not disabled under
social security disability law.
It is not the task of this Court to review the evidence and make an independent
decision. Neither is it to reverse the decision of the ALJ because there is evidence in the
record which would support a different outcome. The test is whether there is substantial
evidence, on the record as a whole, to support the ALJ’s decision. Van Vickle v. Astrue,
539 F.3d 825, 828 (8th Cir. 2008).
The Court has reviewed the entire record, including the briefs, the ALJ’s decision,
the transcript of the hearing, and the medical and other evidence. There is ample
evidence on the record as a whole that “a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support [the] conclusion” of the ALJ in this case. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. at 401.
The Commissioner’s decision is not based on legal error.
The final determination of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. The oral argument
hearing scheduled for February 19, 2015, at 10:00 a.m. is canceled. Ms. Offutt’s
complaint is hereby dismissed with prejudice, this 27th day of January, 2015.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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