Bledsoe v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on August 22, 2014. (cnn)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
EL DORADO DIVISION
JOSEPH A. BLEDSOE
Civil No. 1:13-cv-01057
CAROLYN W. COLVIN
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Joseph Bledsoe (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social
Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), and a period of
disability under Titles II and XVI of the Act. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a
magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial,
ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 8.1
Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final
judgment in this matter.
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB and SSI on May 2, 2011. (Tr. 9, 112-124).
Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to breathing problems, arthritis, diabetes. (Tr. 141). Plaintiff
alleged an onset date of July 15, 2008. (Tr. 141). These applications were denied initially and again
upon reconsideration. (Tr. 60-69). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his
The docket numbers for this case are referenced by the designation “ECF No. ____” The transcript pages for
this case are referenced by the designation “Tr.”
applications and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 70-72).
Plaintiff’s administrative hearing was held on May 10, 2012. (Tr. 22-55). Plaintiff was
present and was represented by counsel, Theodore Stricker, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and
Vocational Expert (“VE”) Mack Welch testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing,
Plaintiff was forty-eight (48) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. §
404.1563(c), and had a college degree in Applied Science. (Tr. 27, 30-32).
On July 19, 2012, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s application
for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 9-17). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Act through September 30, 2011. (Tr. 11, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined
Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since July 15, 2008. (Tr. 11,
The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of diabetes mellitus and
hypertension. (Tr. 11, Finding 3). The ALJ then determined Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet
or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart
P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 13, Finding 4).
In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined his RFC.
(Tr. 13-16). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and found his
claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained
the RFC to perform light work but he could never balance or work around heights. (Tr. 13, Finding
The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 16, Finding 6). The
ALJ found Plaintiff able to perform his PRW as a telemarketer. Id. Given this, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined in the Act from July 15, 2008 through the date
of his decision. (Tr. 16, Finding 7).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s unfavorable decision.
(Tr. 4-5). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable
decision. (Tr. 1-3). On July 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties
consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on August 1, 2013. ECF No. 8. Both Parties have filed
appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 12, 13. This case is now ready for decision.
2. Applicable Law:
In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner’s
findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
(2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than
a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the Commissioner’s decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001).
As long as there is substantial evidence in the record that supports the Commissioner’s decision, the
Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have
supported a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. See
Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). If, after reviewing the record, it is possible
to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the
findings of the ALJ, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. See Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065,
1068 (8th Cir. 2000).
It is well established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of
proving his or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one
year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel,
160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines
a “physical or mental impairment” as “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological,
or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that
his or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive
months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses
the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently
engaged in a “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that
significantly limits the claimant’s physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3)
whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment
listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work
experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his
or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to
the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can
perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f). The fact finder only considers
the plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience in light of his or her RFC if the final stage of this
analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).
In his appeal brief, Plaintiff claims the ALJ’s disability determination is not supported by
substantial evidence in the record. ECF No. 12, Pg. 7-12. Specifically, Plaintiff claims the ALJ
erred: (1) in the RFC determination of Plaintiff, (2) in failing to develop the record, (3) in failing to
give proper treatment to the opinions of Plaintiff’s treating physician, and (4) erred in the treatment
of Plaintiff’s GAF score. Id. In response, the Defendant argues the ALJ did not err in any of his
findings. ECF No. 13. Because this Court finds the ALJ failed to give proper treatment to the
opinions of Plaintiff’s treating physician, this Court will only address this issue.
Social Security Regulations and case law state that a treating physician's opinion will be
granted “controlling weight,” provided it is “well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the]
record.” See SSR 96-2p; Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012-13 (8th Cir. 2000)(citing 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(d)(2)). An ALJ is required to give good reasons for the particular weight given to a
treating physician’s evaluation. See Prosch, 201 F.3d at1013 (citing 20 C.F.R § 404.1527(d)(2), and
SSR 96-2p). An ALJ may disregard the opinion of a treating physician only where 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 such opinions. Id. at 1013
(quoting Rogers v. Chater, 118 F.3d 600, 602 (8th Cir. 1997), and Cruze v. Chater, 85 F.3d 1320,
1324-25 (8th Cir. 1996)).
On August 23, 2011 Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Jerry Grant who completed a Medical Opinion
of Ability to do Work Related Activities. (Tr. 232-234). According to that report, Plaintiff could
only lift up to twenty pounds occasionally, could never climb ladders and could only occasionally
stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl or balance, should avoid exposure to extreme cold and heights, will miss
work more than three times a month because of his impairments, and is not capable of working an
eight hour work day. Id.
The ALJ stated he considered the opinions of Dr. Grant but found them not persuasive
because his conclusions were unsupported by the evidence. (Tr. 16). The ALJ did not indicate what
other medical evidence he relied upon in making his decision.
The ALJ has the responsibility to determine which findings are inconsistent and which
opinions should be given greater weight than other opinions. See Brown v. Astrue, 611 F.3d 941,
951-52. However, when an ALJ determines that a treating physician’s opinion should be discounted,
“he should give good reasons for doing so.” Id. (internal quotation and citation omitted). In this
matter, the ALJ’s complete lack of analysis and review certainly does not amount to “good reasons”
for discounting Dr. Grant’s findings. See Brown, 611 F.3d at 951-52.
Substantial evidence does not support the ALJ’s decision of Plaintiff being not disabled
because the ALJ failed to properly analyze the opinions of Plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Grant.
Because the ALJ did not properly review the opinions of Plaintiff’s treating physician, this case
should be reversed and remanded for proper review and analysis of these opinions.
Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds that the decision of the ALJ, denying benefits
to Plaintiff, is not supported by substantial evidence and should be reversed and remanded. A
judgment incorporating these findings will be entered pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
52 and 58.
ENTERED this 22nd day of August 2014.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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