Miller v. Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER denying 2 Mr. Miller's request for relief and affirming the decision denying the application for benefits. Signed by Magistrate Judge Beth Deere on 8/30/2016. (mef)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CASE NO.: 4:15-CV-323-BD
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff William Miller has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration denying his claims 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. Papesh v. Colvin, 786 F.3d 1126, 1131(8th Cir. 2015); 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); Phillips v. Astrue, 671 F.3d 699, 702 (8th Cir. 2012).
Mr. Miller alleged that he became limited in his ability to work due to pain from
multiple bullet wounds, hypertension, migraines, and a learning disability. (SSA record at
The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge. (Docket
54, 88-93, 192) After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge2 (“ALJ”)
concluded that Mr. Miller had not been under a disability within the meaning of the
Social Security Act at any time from January 23, 2012, the date the application was filed,
through September 25, 2014, the date of his decision. (Id. at 19-20) On April 2, 2015,
the Appeals Council denied a request for a review of the ALJ’s decision, making the
ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 3-6) Mr. Miller then filed
his complaint initiating this appeal. (Docket #2)
At the time of the hearing, Mr. Miller was 36 years old and was homeless. (SSA
record at 441-42) He had a fifth-grade education and could not read or write. (Id. at 44244) He had never had steady employment. (Id. at 446-48)
The ALJ’s Decision
The ALJ found that Mr. Miller had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
his alleged onset date and that his borderline intellectual functioning, learning disabilities,
anti-social personality disorder, morbid obesity, and history of gunshot wounds were
“severe” impairments. (Id. at 12) He found that Mr. Miller’s allegations regarding the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were not entirely credible. (Id.
Based on his findings, the ALJ concluded that, during the relevant time period, Mr.
Miller retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) for light work, except he could
The Honorable Clarence Daniel Stripling.
not perform jobs that would require reading or arithmetic skills; he could perform only
simple, routine, and repetitive job tasks that require only incidental interpersonal contact;
and he would have to have supervision that was simple, direct, and concrete. (Id. at 16)
After hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Mr. Miller
could perform work as a poultry line picker and loader/unloader. (Id. at 18-19) Thus, the
ALJ concluded, Mr. Miller was not disabled. (Id. at 19)
Mr. Miller’s Allegations
Mr. Miller generally challenges the ALJ's decision, but focuses on the
identification of severe impairments and the credibility assessment. He argues that the
medical evidence supports more limitation than the ALJ found. For these reasons, he
says, substantial evidence does not support the decision.
At step two of the disability-determination process, the ALJ determines whether
the claimant has a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §416.920(a)(4)(ii). Mr. Miller contends
that the identified impairments are inconsistent with his diagnosis of hypertension; but
even if this is true, a diagnosis does not establish a severe impairment. To be severe, an
impairment must significantly limit the claimant’s physical or mental ability to do basic
work activities. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) & 416.920(c) (explaining that claimant is
not disabled unless he has “impairment or combination of impairments which
significantly limits [the claimant’s] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities”). A diagnosis does not make that showing.
Mr. Miller has not pointed to evidence in the record indicating his hypertension
significantly limits his ability to do basic work activities. In fact, the record indicates Mr.
Miller performed odd jobs, such as washing cars and house cleaning, when those jobs are
available to him. (Id. at 453) Further, Mr. Miller’s treating records indicate that his
hypertension could be controlled with medication. (SSA record at 312, 314, 320, 323,
333, 421, 434)
Moreover, the purpose of step two is to weed out claimants whose abilities to work
are not significantly limited. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 156-57 (1987) (O’Connor,
J., concurring) (explaining that the Social Security Act authorizes the Commissioner to
weed out applications by claimants who cannot possibly meet the statutory definition of
disability at step two of the disability-determination process). If the claimant shows he
has a severe impairment, the process proceeds to the next step in the analysis. Once the
claimant meets his step-two burden, there is no reversible error so long as the record
shows that the ALJ considered all of the medical evidence and all of the claimant’s
impairments. The record in this case shows that the ALJ considered all of the medical
evidence and all of Mr. Miller’s impairments, including the combined effects of his
impairments. (Id. at 10-12, 14-18)
Mr. Miller also complains that the ALJ did not properly consider his obesity. The
ALJ found that Mr. Miller’s obesity was a severe impairment. (Id. at 12) He went on to
find, however, that in spite of his obesity and other impairments, he could perform a
limited range of light work. (Id. at 16-18) There is substantial evidence in the record to
support this conclusion. Inge Carter, M.D., examined Mr. Miller on April 27, 2012, and
found he had no edema and full range of motion in his back and upper and lower
extremities. (Id. at 222-23) Dr. Carter also noted that Mr. Miller performed all limb
functions and retained full motor strength in his extremities and hands. (Id. at 13, 222-23)
Dr. Carter concluded that Mr. Miller had only moderate limitations in sitting, standing,
walking, and lifting. (Id. at 223) There is substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s
conclusion that, even with his impairments, Mr. Miller could perform a limited range of
Mr. Miller maintains that the ALJ’s assessment that his complaints of disabling
pain were not entirely credible is not supported by substantial evidence. (#12 pp. 11-14)
A reasonable mind would accept the evidence as adequate to support the ALJ’s credibility
determination here because the objective medical evidence does not show a basis for Mr.
Miller’s alleged disabling symptoms. A claimant must prove disability with objective
medical evidence; mere allegations are not enough. 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(5)(A) (“An
individual’s statement as to pain or other symptoms shall not alone be conclusive
evidence of disability…; there must be medical signs and findings, established by
medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques, which show the
existence of a medical impairment…which could reasonably be expected to produce the
pain or other symptoms alleged and which…would lead to a conclusion that the
individual is under a disability”); 20 C.F.R. § 416.908 (“A physical or mental impairment
must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory
findings, not only by your statement of symptoms.”).
Mr. Miller alleged numerous disabling symptoms including pain in his back and
chest, trouble walking, numbness in his left leg, hypertension, swelling in his feet, and
migraine headaches. On examination, however, Dr. Carter found that Mr. Miller had no
edema and retained full range of motion in his back and upper and lower extremities. (Id.
at 222-23) Dr. Carter also noted that Mr. Miller performed all limb functions, retained
full motor strength in his extremities and hands, and that there was no atrophy. (Id. at
222-23) Dr. Carter diagnosed low back pain and chest wall pain, but found that Mr.
Miller had only mild -to-moderate limitation in sitting, standing, walking, and lifting.
Mr. Miller complains that the ALJ erred by discounting his complaints because of
his infrequent treatment. He asserts that he lacked financial resources and was
unsophisticated with regard to services that were available to him. (#12 at 13)
There is substantial support for the ALJ considering Mr. Miller’s infrequent
treatment. Here, the record indicates that Mr. Miller was capable of seeking medical
treatment when needed. He sought treatment for hypertension on February 19, 2014 and
March 12, 2014. He also sought treatment at St. Vincent Infirmary in March and July of
2012; October, 2013; and April, and July, 2014.
Additionally, at the hearing, Mr. Miller testified that the Arkansas Department of
Correction (“ADC”) refused to give him mental health treatment while he was
incarcerated. ADC records, however, contradict Mr. Miller’s testimony. Psychiatrist
Natalie Brush-Strode performed a Psychiatric Evaluation of Mr. Miller while he was
incarcerated in the ADC. Mr. Miller reported to Dr. Brush-Strode that he had diagnoses
of ADHD, Bipolar, and Schizophrenia in an attempt to convince her that he should not be
housed in the general population. (Id. at 262) When Mr. Miller discovered that Dr.
Brush-Strode would not be helpful in placing him in restricted housing, however, he
denied having any problems or need of mental health treatment. (Id.) Dr. Brush-Strode
reported that, on examination, Mr. Miller “showed no objective signs or symptoms of
psychosis, mania, hypomania, anxiety or depression” and concluded he had no need for
psychopharmacological intervention. (Id. at 263)
Mr. Miller did not seek treatment for his alleged mental impairment during the
relevant time period. (Id. at 220, 354, 366-67, 380-82, 294-96, 410-11, 424, 431) His
lack of medical treatment suggests no disabling symptoms and undermines his credibility.
A reasonable mind would expect a person with disabling mental impairment to seek some
type of medical treatment. Gwathney v. Chater, 104 F.3d 1043, 1045 (8th Cir. 1997)
(failing to seek medical assistance for alleged physical and mental impairments
contradicted allegations of disabling conditions and supported unfavorable decision);
Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 419 (8th Cir. 1996) (complaints of disabling pain and
functional limitations are inconsistent with failure to take prescription pain medication or
seek regular medical treatment); Rautio v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 176, 179 (8th Cir. 1988) (“A
failure to seek aggressive treatment is not suggestive of disabling back pain.”).
While Mr. Miller claims to have been unable to afford medication and treatment,
the record indicates he continued to smoke cigarettes. (Id. at 457) Smoking is an
expensive habit that can be considered when weighing credibility. 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 cigarettes to help finance pain medication.”). Mr.
Miller’s claim that he could not seek treatment due to a lack of resources is also
undermined by his failure to take advantage of treatment freely available to him while he
was in the ADC.
Finally, the ALJ credibility determination is supported by Mr. Miller’s activities.
Mr. Miller testified he was able to ride a bicycle, walk, ride the bus, clean house, wash
cars, shop in stores, and pay bills. A reasonable mind would accept the evidence as
adequate to support the ALJ’s decision that Mr. Miller could perform light work.
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision denying Mr. Miller’s
applications for benefits. The ALJ made no legal error. For these reasons, Mr. Miller’s
request for relief (#2) is DENIED, and the decision denying the application for benefits is
DATED this 30th day of August, 2016.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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