Woods v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on December 22, 2014. (cnn)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
EL DORADO DIVISION
Civil No. 1:13-cv-01087
CAROLYN W. COLVIN
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Ethel Woods (“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 her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and a period of disability under Title II 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 postjudgment 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 on August 12, 2011. (Tr. 16, 135-136).
Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and
acid reflux. (Tr. 151). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of November 3, 2010. (Tr. 151). This
application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 16). Thereafter, Plaintiff
requested an administrative hearing on her application and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 7172).
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.”
Plaintiff’s administrative hearing was held on October 3, 2012. (Tr. 29-59). Plaintiff was
present and was represented by counsel, Win Trafford, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff, her sister Peggy
Webb, and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Dianne Smith testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this
hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-six (56) years old, which is defined as a “person of advanced age” under
20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(e), and had a high school education. (Tr. 33).
On October 26, 2012, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s application
for DIB. (Tr. 16-24). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Act through December 31, 2015. (Tr. 18, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined
Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since November 3, 2010. (Tr. 18,
The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of obesity, hypertension, diabetes
mellitus, degenerative joint disease, and osteoarthritis of the knees. (Tr. 18, 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. 19,
In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined her RFC.
(Tr. 20-23). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and found her
claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained
the RFC to perform light work (Tr. 20, Finding 5).
The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 24, Finding 6). The
ALJ found Plaintiff able to perform her PRW as a deboner, machine operator, and garment inspector.
Id. Given this, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined in the Act
from November 3, 2010 through the date of his decision. (Tr. 24, Finding 7).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s unfavorable decision.
(Tr. 12). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable
decision. (Tr. 1-3). On November 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The
Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on November 27, 2013. ECF No. 8. Both Parties
have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 11, 12. 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 her appeal brief, Plaintiff claims the ALJ’s disability determination is not supported by
substantial evidence in the record. ECF No. 11, Pg. 9-20. Specifically, Plaintiff claims the ALJ
erred: (1) in the RFC determination of Plaintiff, (2) in failing to give proper treatment to the opinions
of Plaintiff’s treating physician, and (3) in the credibility assessment of Plaintiff. Id. In response,
the Defendant argues the ALJ did not err in any of his findings. ECF No. 12. Because I find a
failure to give proper treatment to the opinions of Plaintiff’s treating physician, I will only address
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)).
In May 2009 Plaintiff was first seen by Dr. Joanne Gregory. (Tr. 289). At that time Plaintiff
was complaining of fatigue and was also diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension. Id. Plaintiff
was seen by Dr. Gregory on multiple occasions throughout 2009 and through 2012. (Tr. 221-238,
264-269, 274-275, 289-306). On December 5, 2012, Dr. Gregory indicated in a letter Plaintiff was
suffering from diabetes, osteoarthrosis of the knee and hips, gastroesophageal reflux disease and
hypertension. (Tr. 308). Dr. Gregory was of the opinion Plaintiff was unable to “hold down” gainful
employment and would be expected to miss more than four days a month due to illness. Id. Dr.
Gregory also indicated Plaintiff’s medications would cause sleepiness, confusion and decrease in
cognitive and motor responses. Id. Finally, Dr. Gregory stated Plaintiff is unable to operate
machinery, climb stairs, stoop or kneel due to her medications and her physical impairment. (Tr.
This report was provided to the Appeals Council who follow the same rules for considering
opinion evidence as ALJ’s follow. The Appeals Council provided no discussion or analysis of Dr.
Gregory’s report, other than to state “this information does not provide a basis for changing the
Administrative Law Judge’s decision.” (Tr. 2). 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 complete lack of analysis and review does not
constitute “good reason” for discounting Dr. Gregory’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 of the failure to properly analyze the opinions of Plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Gregory.
Because of this failure to 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 December 2014.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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