Pearson v. Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER affirming the Commissioner's decision and dismissing Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice. Signed by Magistrate Judge Joe J. Volpe on 9/18/2014. (mcz)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
PINE BLUFF DIVISION
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Willie Pearson, 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”) and for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Act. For reasons set out below, the decision of the
Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
On May 10, 2011, Mr. Pearson protectively filed for DIB and SSI benefits due to vision and
back problems, head injury and depression. (Tr. 146) Mr. Pearson’s claims were denied initially
and upon reconsideration. At Mr. Pearson’s request, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a
hearing on January 26, 2012, where Mr. Pearson appeared with his lawyer. At the hearing, the ALJ
heard testimony from Mr. Pearson and a vocational expert (“VE”). (Tr. 43-62)
The ALJ issued a decision on March 8, 2012, finding that Mr. Pearson was not disabled
under the Act. (Tr. 20-30) The Appeals Council denied Mr. Pearson’s request for review, making
the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s final decision. (Tr. 1-3)
Mr. Pearson, who was fifty-six years old at the time of the hearing, has a GED and past
relevant work experience as a poultry hanger. (Tr. 46, 59)
DECISION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE1
The ALJ found that Mr. Pearson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
March 15, 2008, and he had the following severe impairments: lumbago, chronic bronchitis,
adjustment disorder with depressed mood, and history of head injury. (Tr. 23) However, the ALJ
found that Mr. Pearson 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)
According to the ALJ, Mr. Pearson has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to do
medium work, but he could not be exposed to respiratory irritants. He is limited to work where the
complexity of tasks can be learned by demonstration or repetition within one month; interaction with
public is incidental to the work performed, with little judgment and few variables; and supervision
required is simple, direct, and concrete. (Tr. 25) The VE testified that the jobs available with these
limitations were kitchen helper and stocker. (Tr. 59) Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr.
Pearson could perform a significant number of other jobs existing in the national economy, and
found that 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. §§ 416.920(a)-(g) and 404.1520(a)-(g).
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926.
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. Pearson’s Arguments for Reversal
Mr. Pearson asserts that the Commissioner’s decision should be reversed because it is not
supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Mr. Pearson contends that the ALJ (1) failed to
properly weigh his doctor’s medical source statement, and (2) without explanation, relied on
testimony from the VE that contradicts the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. (Doc. No. 15)
Medical Source Statement
Mr. Pearson argues that the ALJ’s decision to give the treating physician’s January 23, 2012,
RFC “limited weight” was in error. He argues that the ALJ’s analysis “was woefully deficient”
because the ALJ provided only “bullet points of ‘factors’” and “provided no substance whatsoever
to support his finding.” (Id.)
An ALJ can discount a treating physician’s opinion when it is inconsistent with the record
as a whole, just as the ALJ did here.6 Dr. Marcus’s report indicated that he had seen Mr. Pearson
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)).
Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2012) (holding that an ALJ may discount
or even disregard the opinions of a treating physician, when they are inconsistent or where other
medical assessments are better supported).
only twice in ten months, and “prescription medicine was not required or requested” for his back
pain. (Tr. 300) Yet, Dr. Marcus concluded that Mr. Pearson could walk only two blocks without
pain and could stand for only thirty minutes. He noted that Mr. Pearson could stand/walk for only
a total of two hours in an eight hour workday and could rarely pick up less than ten pounds. (Tr. 301302) These extreme limitations conflict with both Mr. Pearson’s testimony and the medical records
as whole. A few examples:
Activities of Daily Living -- Mr. Person’s own testimony contradicts the limitations set out
by Dr. Marcus. He testified that he has no trouble walking, no trouble sitting, and can pick up twenty
pounds. (Tr. 47-48) When asked how long he could stand, Mr. Pearson’s response was “I really
don’t stand that often.” (Tr. 48) Additionally, he indicated that he could shop, do yard work, and
take care of his personal needs, though it takes him longer than normal. (Tr. 156-158)
Conservative Treatment -- As set out in Dr. Marcus’s report and the other evidence, Mr.
Pearson takes only over the counter medications for his back problems and headaches.7 When he
met with Dr. Navarro in March 2011, he advised he had “been having back pain for the last fifteen
years” but he lets it get better on his own, rather than take medication. (Tr. 224) At that time, Mr.
Pearson alleged that he had financial restraints, but he was and is a smoker, so this excuse carries
little weight.8 Additionally, an x-ray of his spine revealed no bony abnormalities. (Tr. 238). Finally,
Black v. Apfel, 143 F.3d 383, 386 (8th Cir. 1998) (finding that an ALJ may rely on the fact
that a claimant has undergone only conservative treatment when evaluating the severity of the
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
Mr. Pearson only saw Dr. Marcus twice in ten months.9
Working with Impairments10 -- Mr. Pearson’s headaches and back problems started after
he was assaulted in 1999, so he worked with those impairments for nearly ten years -- he was fired
from his job in March 2008. (Tr. 204) Additionally, Dr. Butler’s 2009 assessment found that Mr.
Pearson had headaches and back pain, but the severity was minimal. (Tr. 208)
Mr. Pearson points out that the ALJ found he could not be “exposed to respiratory irritants”
but then found him capable of being a kitchen helper, which is a job that may expose workers to
“other environmental conditions.” (Doc. No. 15) Even assuming that the occupation of kitchen
helper contradicted the RFC set out by the ALJ, the error is harmless since the VE also testified that
Mr. Pearson could work as a stocker.
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. Pearson’s Complaint is
dismissed with prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 18th day of September, 2014.
JOE J. VOLPE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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.).
Naber v. Shalala, 22 F.3d 186, 189 (8th Cir. 1994) (“[A] condition that was not disabling
during working years and has not worsened cannot be used to prove present disability.”).
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