Grinage 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 9/16/2014. (mcz)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
PINE BLUFF DIVISION
BENJAMIN GRINAGE II,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner, Social Security
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Benjamin Grinage, 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 December 2, 2009, Mr. Grinage protectively filed for DIB benefits due to left knee
replacement, high blood pressure, PTSD, gout, and arthritis. (Tr. 235) Mr. Grinage’s claims were
denied initially and upon reconsideration. At Mr. Grinage’s request, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing on May 15, 2012, where Mr. Grinage appeared with his lawyer. At the
hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Mr. Grinage, his wife, and a vocational expert (“VE”). (Tr.
The ALJ issued a decision on June 19, 2012, finding that Mr. Grinage was not disabled under
the Act. (Tr. 23-39) The Appeals Council denied Mr. Grinage’s request for review, making the
ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s final decision. (Tr. 1-3)
Mr. Grinage, who was forty-four years old at the time of the hearing, has a high school
education and past relevant work experience as a patrolman and traffic sergeant. (Tr. 110)
DECISION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE1
The ALJ found that Mr. Grinage had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 27,
2009, and he had the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis, hypertension, mood disorder,
anxiety disorder (PTSD), and substance disorder in remission. (Tr. 25) However, the ALJ found
that Mr. Grinage 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 (Id.)
According to the ALJ, Mr. Grinage has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to do less
than the full range of light work. He can occasionally climb stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl, but can never climb ladders or perform work requiring more than one month of training. He
must avoid hazards and unprotected heights and would need to sit/stand at will. He is limited to
simple instructions, simple work related decisions, work where the complexity of the tasks is
performed by rote, with few variables and little judgment, and few, if any, work place changes.
Supervision must be simple, direct, and concrete. (Tr. 28) The VE testified that the jobs available
with these limitations were small products assembler and electrical assembler.
Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr. Grinage could perform a significant number of other jobs
existing in the national economy, and found that he was not disabled.
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).
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526.
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.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. Grinage’s Arguments for Reversal
Mr. Grinage asserts that the Commissioner’s decision should be reversed because it is not
supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Mr. Grinage contends that the ALJ (1) erred in his
credibility finding; (2) erred in his RFC finding; and (3) failed to meet his burden at step 5 (Doc. No.
Mr. Grinage contends the ALJ’s credibility finding is not supported by substantial evidence
in the record.
When assessing the credibility of the severity of Mr. Grinage’s impairments, the ALJ
properly considered Mr. Grinage activities of daily living.6 The ALJ noted that Mr. Grinage can
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)).
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,
clean, shop, cook, drive, pay bills, do the dishes, and take care of his personal needs. He also noted
that Mr. Grinage regularly goes fishing, visits with relatives in Little Rock, and goes to church. (Tr.
The ALJ pointed out that, though Mr. Grinage claims that working “aggravates his
condition,” no treating doctors “have placed the level of limitation on him that he has alleged.” (Doc.
No. 29) Mr. Grinage argued that Dr. Martin listed him as “retired/disabled” on a November 2011
note, but there is some indication that this notation was based on Mr. Grinage’s opinion, since the
notes from May 18, 2011, read “disabled per patient.” (Tr. 683, 805) Additionally, before the May
2011 note, the last mention of work restrictions was from July 2010 where Dr. Martin found that Mr.
Grinage could do “no jumping, no squatting, no running, no kneeling, and no heavy lifting.” (Tr.
644) Two months before that, Dr. Grinage released Mr. Grinage to perform “administrative type
duties.” (Tr. 646) I recognize that Mr. Grinage had a second knee surgery in July 2011, but there
is no explanation for the significant status change.
Mr. Grinage also refers to a May 23, 2012, letter where Dr. Martin indicated that the
“infection has resolved, but Mr. Grinage has been left with significant functional impairment with
the inability to seek gainful employment.” (Tr. 789) Dr. Martin did not elaborate further. Notably,
this letter was obtained a few weeks after Mr. Grinage’s hearing in front of the ALJ. Furthermore,
it is contrary to the record as a whole. From August 2011 through January 2012, Mr. Grinage
repeatedly reported that his knee was improving, though there was occasional swelling. (Tr. 693710) Mr. Grinage informed his physical therapist on September 2, 2011, that he was sore after he
“did a lot over the weekend.” (Tr. 684) In January 2012, he was able to travel to Las Vegas for
vacation. (Tr. 772) By February 3, 2012, the notes reflect that his knee is “doing great” and “doing
and may discredit complaints if they are “inconsistent with the evidence as a whole.”).
fine.” (Tr. 711) Finally, when Dr. Martin wrote the May 2012 note, he had not seen Mr. Grinage
since November 2011, and at that time Mr. Grinage reported only “mild pain.” (Tr. 683)
Accordingly, the ALJ appropriately discounted Dr. Martin’s conclusion.7
Mr. Grinage contends the ALJ’s RFC finding is contrary to Dr. Martin’s May 2012 statement
that Mr. Grinage is no longer able to work. For the same reasons as set out above, the ALJ did not
err in disregarding Dr. Martin’s May 2012 letter. Additionally, the RFC finding is consistent with
the objective medical records as a whole.
As for the alleged mental impairments, the ALJ properly considered them and included
restrictions in the RFC. Mr. Grinage argues the ALJ erred by relying on Dr. McDonald’s GAF score
of 55 rather than the other GAF scores in the record; but Mr. Grinage did not cite any earlier GAF
scores. Either way, an ALJ is permitted to disregard GAF scores when they conflict with the medical
evidence and the claimant’s functional abilities.8 Additionally, in November 2007, Mr. Grinage was
diagnosed with PTSD related to an accident that occurred in 1988, but he continued to work as a
police officer until he hurt his knee in July 2009. (Tr. 345-348) An ALJ may find that a mental
impairment is not disabling when a claimant continues to work.9
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).
Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 974 (8th Cir. 2010).
Krone v. Apfel, 187 F.3d 642 (8th Cir. 1999) (finding that “despite some evidence of a
possible mental impairment,” the fact that claimant continued to work indicated that any impairment
was not disabling).
Mr. Grinage argues the ALJ’s hypothetical did not consider the side-effects of his
medications, did not mention walking limitations, did not consider the mental and physical
impairments set out by Dr. Martin and the GAF scores, and did not consider limitations on
concentration, persistence, and pace. (Doc. No. 14)
Contrary to Mr. Grinage’s argument, the ALJ considered the side-effects of his medications
when the ALJ found that he “must avoid hazards and unprotected heights.” (Tr. 28) Additionally,
Mr. Grinage testified that he worked for years as a police officer while taking the same medications.
(Tr. 88) As for the walking limitations, the ALJ addressed this when he indicated that Mr. Grinage
should be able to sit/stand “at will.” As mentioned above, the arguments based on Dr. Martin’s letter
and GAF scores are without merit. And finally, the limitations on concentration, persistence, and
pace were considered when the ALJ limited the RFC to simple instructions, simple work related
decisions, work where the complexity of the tasks is performed by rote, with few variables and little
judgment, few, if any, work place changes, and simple, direct, and concrete supervision. (Tr. 28)
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. Grinage’s Complaint is
dismissed with prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 16th day of September, 2014.
JOE J. VOLPE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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