Anderson v. Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER affirming the final determination of the Commissioner; and dismissing 2 Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice. Signed by Magistrate Judge Joe J. Volpe on 1/26/2015. (srw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner, Social Security
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Anthony Anderson, appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration denying his claims for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act. For reasons set out below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
On December 21, 2011, Mr. Anderson protectively filed for benefits due to back and neck
pain, bone spurs, bulging discs, arthritis, COPD, diabetes, high blood pressure, enlarged heart, and
peripheral neuropathy. (Tr. 138) His claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. At Mr.
Anderson’s request, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on April 16, 2013, where
Mr. Anderson appeared with his lawyer. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Mr.
Anderson and a vocational expert (“VE”). (Tr. 39-57) Mr. Anderson, who was forty-seven years
old at the time of the hearing, has a GED and past relevant work experience as a craft foreman. (Tr.
The ALJ issued a decision on June 28, 2013, finding that Mr. Anderson was not disabled
under the Act. (Tr. 12-26) The Appeals Council denied Mr. Anderson’s request for review, making
the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s final decision. (Tr. 1-3)
DECISION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE1
The ALJ found that Mr. Anderson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from the
alleged onset date of August 18, 2010, through his date last insured of September 30, 2011, and he
had the following severe impairments: gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), diabetes mellitus,
degenerative disc disease of the back and neck, obesity, possible cardiomegaly, carpal tunnel (postoperative), COPD, and hypertension. (Tr. 14) However, the ALJ found that Mr. Anderson did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or equaling an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.2 (Tr. 15)
According to the ALJ, Mr. Anderson has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to do light
work, but he can only occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl, or kneel; cannot work around temperature
extremes or respiratory irritants; and can do no rapid, repetitive flexion or extension of the wrists
bilaterally. (Id.) The VE testified that the jobs available with these limitations were child attendant
and price tagger. (Tr. 53-54) Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr. Anderson could perform
a significant number of other jobs existing in the national economy, and found he was not disabled.
Standard of Review
In reviewing the Commissioner’s decision, this Court must determine whether there is
The ALJ followed the required sequential analysis to determine: (1) whether the claimant
was engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant had a severe impairment;
(3) if so, whether the impairment (or combination of impairments) met or equaled a listed
impairment; and (4) if not, whether the impairment (or combination of impairments) prevented the
claimant from performing past relevant work; and (5) if so, whether the impairment (or combination
of impairments) prevented the claimant from performing any other jobs available in significant
numbers in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(g).
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526.
substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the decision.3 Substantial evidence is “less
than a preponderance, but sufficient for reasonable minds to find it adequate to support the
In reviewing the record as a whole, the Court must consider both evidence that detracts from
the Commissioner’s decision and evidence that supports the decision; but, the decision cannot be
reversed “simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion.”5
Mr. Anderson’s Arguments for Reversal
Mr. Anderson asserts that the Commissioner’s decision should be reversed because it is not
supported by substantial evidence. He argues that he has had chronic back and neck pain since 2007,
and relies on several objective medical records. But the medical records are all subsequent to his
date last insured. To be entitled to disability benefits, Mr. Anderson must establish that he was
disabled no later than the date his insured status expired - September 30, 2011.6 The ALJ correctly
noted that between 2007 and the date last insured, the records are for “mostly routine visits for such
things as dental pain, laboratory testing, mild gastritis, and [to] refill prescriptions.” (Tr. 18)
Notably, Plaintiff makes no argument – nor points to any evidence – to the contrary.
On August 25, 2010, Mr. Anderson reported neck and back pain. (Tr. 246) He was given
medication and diagnostic studies were recommended. Yet, Mr. Anderson did not get an MRI until
October 24, 2011, nearly a month after the date last insured. (Tr. 218) Mr. Anderson contends that
Boettcher v. Astrue, 652 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2011); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Id. (citing Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005)).
Id. (citing Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 578 (8th Cir. 2006)).
Pyland v. Apfel, 149 F.3d 873, 876 (8th Cir. 1998) (“In order to receive disability insurance
benefits, an applicant must establish that she was disabled before the expiration of her insured
the ALJ should not have considered the delay in getting diagnostic studies, because he “did not have
the funds for these studies to be performed.” (Doc. No. 18) First, Mr. Anderson had no issues
obtaining other medical treatment during the time period. Second, Mr. Anderson was a smoker, and
had been for the previous twenty-one years. (Tr. 244) Though he eventually quit smoking, it was
an expensive, ongoing habit that can be considered when weighing his credibility. Additionally, it
is a habit that directly exacerbated many of his medical conditions.7
Though the MRI revealed there “may be an impingement of the CR nerve root,” the ALJ
properly found that there was “no objective evidence of severe back limitations” before the date last
insured. (Tr. 19, 218) For example, notes from both May and September 2011 indicated “normal
range of motion” in the neck and normal gait. (Tr. 272-273, 282)
On August 25, 2010, Mr. Anderson’s doctor recommended he lose weight, yet a year later
he weighed four pounds (326 pounds) more. (Tr. 237, 246) The fact that Mr. Anderson failed to
follow his doctors’ treatment plan – and his weight directly affects some of his impairments – weighs
against the credibility of the severity of his impairments.8
The ALJ recognized that in September 2011, Mr. Anderson was diagnosed with GERD and
diabetes, but both impairments are “fairly well controlled with medication and respond readily to
minimal intervention.” (Tr. 18) “An impairment which can be controlled by treatment or medication
is not considered disabling.”9
Riggins v. Apfel, 177 F.3d 689, 693 (8th Cir. 1999) (rejecting claimant’s position that he
could not afford medication when “there is no evidence to suggest that he sought any treatment
offered to indigents or chose to forgo smoking three packs of cigarettes a day to help finance pain
Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 802 (8th Cir. 2005) (“A failure to follow a
recommended course of treatment . . . weighs against a claimant’s credibility.”).
Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 725 (8th Cir. 2002).
The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff’s submitted list of medications is from 2012 to present,
which is after the date last insured. In fact, Mr. Anderson testified that several of the medications
he used were prescribed only within the previous year. (Tr. 45-46) More importantly, the ALJ
properly recognized that the medications appear to control his impairments.
Finally, contrary to the later limitations alleged, in September 2011, he reported that he was
walking two to three miles a day. (Tr. 236) The ability to walk and stand for this long period, along
with the other evidence, bolstered the ALJ’s finding that Mr. Anderson was capable of light work
with some restrictions.
While there may be evidence that Mr. Anderson has limitations related to his impairments,
the ALJ’s finding that he could perform light work during the relevant time period is supported by
the record.10 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 contradicts his findings. The test is whether there is substantial evidence on the record as a
whole which supports the decision of the ALJ.11 The record contains ample support as a whole that
“a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support [the] conclusion” of the ALJ in this case.12
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 sufficient evidence in the
Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962 (8th Cir. 2001) (“We may not reverse merely because
substantial evidence also exists that would support a contrary outcome, or because we would have
decided the case differently.”).
E.g., Mapes v. Chater, 82 F.3d 259, 262 (8th Cir. 1996); Pratt v. Sullivan, 956 F.2d 830,
833 (8th Cir. 1992).
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also, Robertson v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d
1124, 1126-27 (8th Cir. 1991).
record as a whole to support the Commissioner’s decision.
THEREFORE, the Court affirms the final determination of the Commissioner and dismisses
Plaintiff’s Complaint with prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 26th day of January, 2015.
JOE J. VOLPE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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