Adams v. Social Security Administration
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER and denying Mr. Adams's 3 request for relief. Signed by Magistrate Judge Beth Deere on 9/14/2016. (ljb)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CASE NO.: 4:15-CV-565-BD
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER
Plaintiff Gregory Adams has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration denying his claim for supplemental security income.
Both parties have submitted appeal briefs and the case is ready for decision.1
Mr. Adams alleged that he became limited in his ability to work due to depression,
human immunodeficiency virus (“HIV”), and lack of sleep. (SSA record at 150) After
conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge2 (“ALJ”) concluded that Mr. Adams
had not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any time
from March 23, 2012, through February 27, 2014, the date of his decision. (Id. at 27) On
July 7, 2015, the Appeals Council denied the request for a review of the ALJ’s decision,
The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge. (Docket
The Honorable Mark Schafer.
making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 3-6) Mr.
Adams then filed his complaint initiating this appeal. (Docket #3)
Mr. Adams was 48 years old at the time of the hearing and lived with a friend.
(SSA record at 36, 40) He had a twelfth-grade education but did not graduate from high
school. (Id. at 52) He had past relevant work as a salvage worker and line cook and last
worked in 2011 as a cashier. (Id. at 36-38, 142)
The ALJ’s Decision
The ALJ found that Mr. Adams had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since his alleged onset date and that his HIV; adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and
depressed mood; and history of cocaine and alcohol abuse were severe impairments. (Id.
at 15) He further found that Mr. Adams’s allegations regarding the intensity, persistence,
and limiting effects of his symptoms were not entirely credible. (Id. at 17-23)
Based on his findings, the ALJ concluded that, during the relevant time period, Mr.
Adams retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) for sedentary work, except he
could only occasionally stoop, crouch, kneel, bend and crawl; was restricted to an indoor
environment without temperature extremes; and could only perform work that was
simple, routine, and repetitive with supervision that was simple, direct and concrete. (Id.
After hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Mr.
Adams could not perform his past relevant work, but that he could perform work as a
lamp shade assembler and document preparer. (Id. at 26) Thus, the ALJ concluded, Mr.
Adams was not disabled. (Id. at 27)
Mr. Adams’s Allegations
Mr. Adams generally challenges the ALJ’s decision, but focuses on the weight
given to the opinions of his treating physicians and the assessment of his RFC. (#3) He
argues the medical evidence supports more limitation than the ALJ found. For these
reasons, he says, substantial evidence does not support the decision.
Standard on Review
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).
A treating physician’s opinion should be granted controlling weight if it is well
supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the record. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d
472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015). The opinion of a treating physician, however, does not
automatically control or eliminate the need to evaluate the record as a whole. Id. (quoting
Hogan v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 958, 961 (8th Cir. 2001)). An ALJ may discount or disregard
the opinion of a treating physician when other medical assessments are supported by
better or more thorough medical evidence, or where a treating physician renders
inconsistent opinions that undermine the credibility of the opinions. Id. (citations
omitted). Further, a medical source opinion that an applicant is disabled or unable to
work involves an issue reserved for the Commissioner and, therefore, is not given
controlling weight. Ellis v. Barnhart, 392 F.3d 988, 994-95 (8th Cir. 2005) (citations
Here, the ALJ discounted Dr. Estelita Quimosing’s opinion that Mr. Adams could
not perform sedentary work because it was inconsistent with other substantial evidence in
the record. (SSA record at 24) The ALJ observed that Dr. Quimosing’s responses on the
Immunodeficiency Virus Infection Medical Assessment Form were not supported by her
own treatment notes. Dr. Quimosing responded to the questionnaire that Mr. Adams
would have marked difficulties in completing tasks in a timely manner and frequently
experienced symptoms that interfered with his ability to perform simple work-like tasks.
Dr. Quimosing, an internist, performed a depression screening of Mr. Adams
during a follow-up visit the month prior to completing the questionnaire and found that
Mr. Adams was severely depressed. Upon screening on the date she completed the
questionnaire, however, she noted that Mr. Adams was negative for depression.3 (Id. at
A depression screen of Mr. Adams on May 2, 2012 was also negative. (Id. at 262)
350, 355, 358) The inconsistency between the questionnaire (reporting marked
difficulties) and the treatment notes (reporting no depression symptoms) was a good
reason for the ALJ to discount Dr. Quimosing’s opinion. Perkins v. Astrue, 648 F.3d
892, 899 (8th Cir. 2011) (ALJ may discount the opinion of a treating physician that is
inconsistent with the physician’s treatment notes).
Further, as the ALJ noted, Dr. Quimosing’s questionnaire responses conflicted
with the opinion of John Faucett, Ph.D., who performed a consultative mental
examination of Mr. Adams and concluded that, although Mr. Adams was performing at a
borderline range intellectually, he had the cognitive capacity to perform basic work-like
tasks as well as the ability to attend and sustain concentration and persistence. (Id.)
The ALJ also observed that, at the hearing, Mr. Adams testified that Dr.
Quimosing had completed the questionnaire based on his responses to the questions. (Id.
at 51) Dr.Quimosing’s reliance on Mr. Adams’s subjective complaints was another valid
reason for discounting her opinion. McDade v. Astrue, 720 F.3d 994, 999–1000 (8th Cir.
2013) (physician’s opinion was properly discounted when he appeared to rely on
claimant’s subjective reports of symptoms and limitations).
Additionally, the Court recognizes that Dr. Quimosing had only treated Mr.
Adams for HIV and Chlamydia on two occasions prior to completing the questionnaire
opining that his mental impairments would limit his ability to perform work-like tasks.
The ALJ was justified in discounting Dr. Quimosing’s opinion on this ground as well.
See Randolph v. Barnhart, 386 F.3d 835, 840 (8th Cir. 2004)(discounting opinion of
physician who had met with patient on only three occasions when she filled out
checklist); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2)(i), 416.927(c)(2)(ii)(the longer a treating
source has treated a claimant and the more times the claimant has been seen by a treating
source, the more weight to be given to the source’s medical opinion).
The ALJ also discounted the opinion of Samuel Bayles, M.D., who completed a
mental residual functional capacity questionnaire for Mr. Adams concluding that, because
of his low intellectual functioning and mental illness, he was unlikely to maintain
consistent employment. (Id. at 386-87) The ALJ observed that there were
inconsistencies between Dr. Bayles’s opinion and the record concerning Mr. Adams’s
alleged hallucinations and also in his improvement with medication.
The ALJ notes that Dr. Bayles’s opinion is contradicted by Mr. Adams’s failure to
report any hallucinations to Dr. Faucett during his consulting evaluation. (Id. at 46, 27479) Additionally, in treatment notes from April 2013, Mr. Adams reported that he was
“doing much better” and that his medication was working well. (Id. at 53, 395) He
denied hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, or psychosis and also feelings of hopelessness
or worthlessness. (Id.) In October, 2013, he reported that adding a new medication had
been very helpful, that he was less irritable, had improved sleep, and was having “good
days” more than 50% of the time. (Id. at 405) He also denied auditory hallucinations, but
did hear sounds or voices on rare occasions and was still seeing things out of the corner of
his eye. He admitted, however, this might have been his mind playing tricks on him.
(Id.) An ALJ may consider a stabilization in symptoms when discounting a treating
physician’s opinion. Bernard v. Colvin, 774 F.3d 482, 488 (8th Cir. 2014) (citing Brown
v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 535, 540 (8th Cir.2004) (other citation omitted).
Notably, Dr. Bayles’s treatment of Mr. Adams was limited to three visits over the
eight months prior to completing the questionnaire. (Id. at 389-98) See Randolph v.
Barnhart, 386 F.3d 835, 840 (8th Cir. 2004)(discounting opinion of physician who had
met with patient on only three occasions when he filled out checklist); see also 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.927(c)(2)(ii) (the longer a treating source has treated a claimant and the more times
the claimant has been seen by a treating source, the more weight to be given to the
source’s medical opinion).
Finally, the ALJ commented that Dr. Bayles had not performed any testing to
determine Mr. Adams’s intellectual functioning. (Id. at 25) Dr. Faucett, who performed
a mental status evaluation, determined that Mr. Adams had the cognitive capacity to
perform basic work-like tasks. (Id. at 274-49) The ALJ did not err in discounting Dr.
Residual Functional Capacity
Mr. Adams complains that there is insufficient evidence to support the ALJ’s
conclusion that he could perform a limited range of sedentary work. (#13 at pp. 17-20)
Sedentary work involves “lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally
lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.967. Additionally, the ALJ included further restrictions for Mr. Adams, including
limits on stooping, crouching, kneeling, bending, crawling, and temperature extremes. He
also included limits to simple, routine, and repetitive work where supervision is simple,
direct, and concrete. (SSA record at 17)
A reasonable mind would accept the evidence as adequate, because medical
evidence established no disabling physical symptoms. A claimant must prove disability
with medical evidence; allegations are not enough. See 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(5)(A), 20
C.F.R. § 416.908. Mr. Adams provided medical evidence that showed a diagnosis of
HIV. Mr. Adams had low CD4 levels in August, 2011, but his condition improved on
medication. (Id. at 248-264, 350-80) Since that time, he had been seeing a physician
regularly and taking his medication and had mostly normal physical examinations and
frequently reported no pain. (Id. at 351, 353, 355-56, 358, 363-64, 365-66, 390, 392, 395,
397, 400, 405)
Mr. Adams had some complaints that his medication caused diarrhea, but he did
not report medication side effects in his pain questionnaire or at many visits to treatment
providers. (Id. at 176, 258, 260, 320, 322-23, 355, 358, 363, 365, 390-91, 393-94, 396,
399, 404) This evidence established no disabling symptoms from HIV.
According to agency medical experts, Mr. Adams could perform light work
involving occasional postural functions. (Id. at 285-306, 329, 334) Additionally,
Chrystal Johnson, M.D., performed a consultative examination of Mr. Adams and noted
mostly normal findings except for some tenderness to palpation. (Id. at 268-72) She
concluded that Mr. Adams would have moderate to severe limitations; however, claims of
severe limitations due to pain were inconsistent with the reports of Mr. Adams’s
treatment providers who repeatedly noted normal physical examinations and no reports of
pain. (Id. at 351, 353, 355-56, 358, 363-64, 365-66, 390, 392, 395, 397, 400, 405)
The limitations the ALJ included demonstrate that he considered Mr. Adams’s
physical impairments. “A claimant's RFC represents the most he can do despite the
combined effects of all of his credible limitations….” The limitation to sedentary work,
the exclusion of frequent stooping, kneeling, bending, crouching, or crawling, and
exposure to temperature extremes reflect a consideration of all of Mr. Adams’s
As set forth above, medical evidence established no disabling mental symptoms.
The ALJ’s limitation to unskilled work — work involving incidental interpersonal
contact, tasks with few variables learned and performed by rote, little independent
judgment, no contact with general public, and simple, direct, concrete supervision — also
reflects consideration of Mr. Adams’s borderline intellectual functioning.
After determining that Mr. Adams could not perform his past relevant work, the
ALJ questioned a vocational expert about available work for a person with Mr. Adams’s
limitations. The vocational expert identified lamp shade assembler and document
preparer as available unskilled, sedentary jobs. (Id. at 62) The availability of jobs
showed that work existed that Mr. Adams could do. The ALJ properly denied the
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision denying Mr. Adams’s
application. The ALJ made no legal error. For these reasons, Mr. Adams’s request for
relief (#3) is DENIED, and the decision denying the application for benefits is
DATED this 14th day of September, 2016.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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