Walker v. Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER affirming the decision of the Commissioner; and dismissing 2 Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice. Signed by Magistrate Judge Joe J. Volpe on 8/19/2014. (srw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
PINE BLUFF DIVISION
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Herman Walker, appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his claims for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). For reasons set out below, the decision
of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
On January 7, 2010, Mr. Walker protectively filed for DIB benefits due to muscle spasm,
swelling, and fluid build up in lower legs; blood clots, blockage, poor circulation, sores, and ulcers
in and on both legs; and asthma. (Tr. 144) Mr. Walker’s claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. At Mr. Walker’s request, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on
July 13, 2011, where Mr. Walker appeared with his lawyer. (Tr. 34) At the hearing, the ALJ heard
testimony from Mr. Walker. (Tr. 35-43)
The ALJ issued a decision on January 24, 2012, finding that Mr. Walker was not disabled
under the Act. (Tr. 21-28) The Appeals Council denied Mr. Walker’s request for review, making
the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s final decision. (Tr. 1-3)
Mr. Walker, who was fifty-five years old at the time of the hearing, has a high school
education and a few years of training from a vocational-technical school. (Tr. 41) He has past
relevant work experience as a carpenter. (Tr. 174)
DECISION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE1
The ALJ found that Mr. Walker had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from
February 1, 2006, through his date last insured of December 31, 2006, and that he had the following
severe impairments: chronic left leg pain due to venous insufficiency. (Tr. 23) However, the ALJ
found that Mr. Walker 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. 23-24)
According to the ALJ, Mr. Walker has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to do the full
range of medium work. (Tr. 24) Based on the entire record, the ALJ determined that Mr. Walker
could perform a significant number of other jobs existing in the national economy, and found that
Mr. Walker was not disabled.
Standard of Review
In reviewing the Commissioner’s decision, this Court must determine whether there is
substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the decision. Boettcher v. Astrue, 652 F.3d
860, 863 (8th Cir. 2011); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “less than a preponderance,
but sufficient for reasonable minds to find it adequate to support the decision.” Id. (citing Guilliams
v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005)).
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.
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.” Id. (citing Pelkey
v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 578 (8th Cir. 2006)).
Mr. Walker’s Arguments for Reversal
Mr. Walker asserts that the Commissioner’s decision should be reversed because it is not
supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Mr. Walker contends that the ALJ erred by relaying
on the Medical Vocational Guidelines at Step 5, since he has a nonexertional impairment, such as
pain. (Doc. No. 13)
Though an ALJ generally must get the opinion of vocational expert when a “claimant suffers
from a nonexertional impairment such as pain,” there are exceptions. “When a claimant's subjective
complaints of pain ‘are explicitly discredited for legally sufficient reasons articulated by the ALJ,’
the Secretary’s burden [at the fifth step] may be met by use of the [Medical-Vocational Guidelines].”
Hutsell v. Sullivan, 892 F.2d 747, 750 (8th Cir. 1989) (quoting Long v. Bowen, 866 F.2d 1066, 1067
(8th Cir.1989)). Here, the ALJ found that Mr. Walker was capable of medium work and explicitly
discredited his claims of disabling impairments by pointing out several issues.
1. No On-going Treatment for Leg Pain3 – An ultrasound conducted on February 6,
2006 revealed that Mr. Walker had a localized venous thrombosis in the mid superficial left femoral
vein. (Tr. 211) During a visit on February 14, 2006, he reported that the symptoms were much
better, but the pain was not resolved. (Tr. 208) At that time, the nurse noted that he would be unable
to work, but would be able to return to work after the blood clot resolved. (Tr. 205) After that date,
Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 967 (8th Cir.2003) (An ALJ may weigh the credibility
of a claimant’s subjective complaints of pain by considering multiple factors, including whether or
not the claimant seeks regular medical treatment.).
there is not much in the record regarding Mr. Walker’s leg pain during the relevant time period.
Though some visits mention a history of deep vein thrombosis in left leg and lower leg pain, there
is no indication that the impairment continued to be the reason for his visits to he doctor. (Tr. 320,
322) Notably, Mr. Walker has pointed out no evidence to the contrary.
2. Controlled with Treatment4 – On May 30, 2006, Mr. Walker reported to the doctor
after swallowing a toothpick. (Tr. 207) Following surgery to treat an abscess that developed in Mr.
Walker’s rectum, the doctor noted that Mr. Walker was “doing satisfactorily” and “[o]verall he is
much improved.” (Tr. 311) On June 20, he reported drainage, but a week later, he was “doing
extremely well.” (Tr. 315) Infection reappeared and Mr. Walker underwent a second surgery on
July 10, but he was again “doing much better” ten days later. (Tr. 320) On September 20, 2006, Mr.
Walker reported pain related to his rectum, but a week later, he was “markedly improved.” (Tr. 325)
After yet another flare up, Mr. Walker reported doing “much better” by November 15, 2006. At that
time the doctor discharged him with instructions that he could “do most anything he feels like doing
right now.” (Tr. 330) On November 29, the doctor again noted that Mr. Walker was “doing well
from the standpoint of his rectum.” (Tr. 332)
3. Credibility Findings5 – The ALJ also recognized that no treating physician placed
any extended restrictions on Mr. Walker, and the expressed limited daily activities seem exaggerated
in light of the objective medical evidence.
Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 725 (8th Cir. 2002) (“An impairment which can be
controlled by treatment or medication is not considered disabling.”).
Clark v. Chater, 75 F.3d 414, 417 (8th Cir.1996) (An ALJ weighs the credibility of a
claimant’s subjective complaints of pain by considering multiple factors, including daily activities,
and may discredit complaints if they are “inconsistent with the evidence as a whole.”); Dunahoo v.
Apfel, 241 F.3d 1033, 1038 (8th Cir. 2001) (affirming ALJ’s finding when he considered, among
other things, that “there were no functional restrictions [placed on claimant] by doctors”).
4. Functional Capacity – The ALJ properly relied on a functional capacity exam
performed on November 2, 2006, which found that Mr. Walker could perform medium work. (Tr.
258-265) Around that same time, another examiner found that Mr. Walker had no functional
limitations. (Tr. 251-257) Though an RFC from 2010 determined that Mr. Walker was capable of
only light work, this was years after the relevant period. (Tr. 378) Accordingly, the ALJ correctly
relied on the 2006 functional capacity exam.
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
record as a whole to support the Commissioner’s decision.
Accordingly, the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed and Mr. Walker’s Complaint is
dismissed with prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 19th day of August, 2014.
JOE J. VOLPE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?