Jones v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on August 22, 2011. (sh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
FORT SMITH DIVISION
Civil No. 2:10-cv-02115
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Kasaranda Jones (“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 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. 5.1
Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final
judgment in this matter.
Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI on April 27, 2007. (Tr. 123-127).
Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to depression, back pain, fatigue, arthritis, and anxiety. (Tr.
146). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of May 17, 2006. (Tr. 146). These applications were denied
initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 83-89, 91-94). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an
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.”
administrative hearing on her applications, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 95).
Plaintiff’s administrative hearing was held on December 4, 2008, in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
(Tr. 25-66). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Stephanie Mays, at this hearing.
Id. Plaintiff, her witness Crystal Alegra, and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Sarah Moore, testified at
this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was twenty-five (25) years old, which is
defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c), and had a high school education. (Tr.
On July 1, 2009, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s application for
DIB and SSI. (Tr. 74-82). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Act through June 30, 2009. (Tr. 76, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff
had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since May 17, 2006, her alleged onset date.
(Tr. 76, Finding 2).
The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of depression, anxiety disorder,
pain disorder, pseudo-seizures, obesity, spondylolisthesis, and degenerative disc disease at L5-S1.
(Tr. 76, Finding 3). The ALJ also 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. 77, Finding 4).
In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined her RFC.
(Tr. 78-80, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and found her
claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained
the following RFC:
The claimant has the residual functional capacity to lift and carry twenty pounds
occasionally and ten pounds frequently. The claimant can sit for about six hours
during an eight-hour workday and stand and walk for about six hours during a
light-hour workday. The claimant can occasionally stoop, climb, balance, kneel,
crouch, and crawl. The claimant is to avoid concentrated exposures to hazards, such
as unprotected heights and heavy machinery. The claimant can perform unskilled
work where interpersonal contact is incidental to work performed, but have no
contact with the general public.
(Tr. 78, Finding 5).
The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr.80, Finding 6). The
ALJ determined Plaintiff’s PRW included work as a fast food cook/sandwich maker,
cashier/grocery checker and cashier II. (Tr. 80). Based upon her RFC, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff would be unable to perform this PRW. Id.
The ALJ did, however, find Plaintiff retained the ability to perform other work
existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 81, Finding 10). The ALJ
based this finding upon the testimony of the VE. Id. Specifically, the VE testified in
response to a question from the ALJ that a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff’s limitations
retained the ability to perform work as a small products assembler with approximately 900
such jobs in Arkansas and 74,000 in the national economy, housekeeper with approximately
1,900 such jobs in Arkansas and 206,000 in the national economy, and machine tender with
approximately 1,500 such jobs in Arkansas and 119,000 in the national economy. Id. The
ALJ then determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from
May 17, 2006 through the date of his decision. (Tr. 82, Finding 11).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s unfavorable
decision. (Tr. 7). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this
unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-3). On August 4, 2010, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF
No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on October 12, 2010. ECF No.
5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 9-10. This case is now ready for
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. §
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. 9 at 12-14. Specifically, Plaintiff
claims the ALJ erred in evaluating her RFC. In response, the Defendant argues the ALJ did
not err in any of his findings. ECF No. 10.
Prior to Step Four of the sequential analysis in a disability determination, the ALJ
is required to determine a claimant’s RFC. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). This RFC
determination must be based on medical evidence that addresses the claimant’s ability to
function in the workplace. See Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 807 (8th Cir. 2004). The
ALJ should consider “‘all the evidence in the record’ in determining the RFC, including ‘the
medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and an individual’s own
description of his limitations.’” Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 807 (8th Cir. 2004)
(quoting Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019 (8th Cir. 2002)). The Plaintiff has the
burden of producing documents and evidence to support his or her claimed RFC. See Cox,
160 F.3d at1206; 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A).
The ALJ, however, bears the primary responsibility for making the RFC
determination and for ensuring there is “some medical evidence” regarding the claimant’s
“ability to function in the workplace” that supports the RFC determination. Lauer v. Apfel,
245 F.3d 700, 703-04 (8th Cir. 2001). Furthermore, this Court is required to affirm the
ALJ’s RFC determination if that determination is supported by substantial evidence on the
record as a whole. See McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 862 (8th Cir. 2000).
In this matter, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work
with limitations. These limitations included can occasionally stoop, climb, balance, kneel,
crouch, and crawl and is to avoid concentrated exposures to hazards, such as unprotected
heights and heavy machinery. The ALJ also found Plaintiff could perform unskilled work
where interpersonal contact is incidental to work performed, but have no contact with the
general public. (Tr. 78, Finding 5).
The medical evidence in this matter supports the ALJ’s RFC determination. On June
27, 2005, Plaintiff had an MRI examination. (Tr. 256). This showed degenerative change
at the level of L5-S1 with no herniation. Id. Less than one year later, on May 11, 2006,
Plaintiff was seen at Sparks Regional Medical Center complaining of back pain after being
involved in a motor vehicle accident. (Tr. 249). Plaintiff underwent a radiological
examination of her spine which showed normal alignment and space height, with no
evidence of fracture or subluxation of her cervical spine. The exam also showed disc
degenerative changes and a grade II spondylolisthesis at L5-S1, with the remainder of her
lumbar spaces being unremarkable. (Tr. 254-255). Plaintiff was diagnosed a cervical and
lumbar strain and discharged without restrictions. (Tr. 251).
On June 9, 2006 Plaintiff obtained a second MRI. (Tr. 308, 311). The results, when
compared to her previous MRI, showed her lumbar spine to be stable and unchanged. Id.
Additionally, the MRI showed no disc herniations or signal abnormality. Id. Following this,
Plaintiff was seen at the River Valley Rehab Center on the referral of Dr. Thomas Cheyne.
(Tr. 308). At this exam, Plaintiff had normal trunk range of motion with the exception of
flexion, which was limited 50% based on complaints of pain. Id. It was also reported
Plaintiff was able to heel/tow walk without difficulty. Id.
Additional support of Plaintiff’s RFC is found in the Physical RFC Assessment
performed by Dr. Jerry Mann on January 22, 2008. (Tr. 350-357). Dr. Mann found Plaintiff
had the RFC to lift or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; to stand
or walk for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday; to sit for about six hours in an
eight-hour workday; and to push and pull without limitations. (Tr. 351). Dr. Mann also
found Plaintiff had postural limitations and was limited to occasional climbing, balancing,
stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. (Tr. 352).
A second Physical RFC Assessment of Plaintiff was done on April 25, 2008 by Dr.
Rebecca Floyd. (Tr. 418-421). Dr. Floyd stated Plaintiff’s exam showed a full range of
motion of her elbows, wrists, hands, hips, knees, ankles, cervical spine, and lumbar spine.
(Tr. 420). Plaintiff also had a negative straight-leg raising, normal reflexes, normal gait and
coordination, no muscle weakness, and normal muscle strength (5/5), with no atrophy of her
arms or legs. (Tr. 419). Dr. Floyd diagnosed Plaintiff with low back pain and indicated
Plaintiff had no physical limitations. (Tr. 420-421).
These findings, along with the findings
of Dr. Mann, support the ALJ’s RFC assessment.
The medical evidence also supports the ALJ’s Mental RFC Assessment of Plaintiff.
On May 29, 2007, Plaintiff underwent a diagnostic interview at the Western Arkansas
Counseling and Guidance Center. (Tr. 362-366). Plaintiff stated she was attempting to
acquire disability due to back problems and was diagnosed with pseudo-seizures as a result
of excessive anxiety. (Tr. 364). Plaintiff indicated, however, her anxiety was under control
and was no longer an issue. (Tr. 366). Plaintiff was diagnosed with major depressive
disorder and her prognosis with treatment was good. (Tr. 366).
On June 1, 2007, psychiatrist Dr. Jaymal Patel indicated Plaintiff had a history of
recurrent intermittent, moderate to severe degree of depression. (Tr. 367). Dr. Patel
diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive disorder, severe without psychosis, and ruled out
post-traumatic stress disorder. (Tr. 368). Dr. Patel prescribed medications and cautioned
Plaintiff to be careful with activities that included operating machines or requiring mental
alertness due to medication side-effects. (Tr. 369).
Additional support of Plaintiff’s RFC is found in the Mental Diagnostic Evaluation
performed by Dr. Kathleen Kralik on January 10, 2008. (Tr. 323-329). Dr. Kralik diagnosed
Plaintiff with anxiety disorder, pain disorder, and cannabis abuse. (Tr. 326). According to
Dr. Kralik, Plaintiff was fully oriented to person, place, time, and purpose. Furthermore, her
capacity to perform daily living and daily adaptive functioning was estimated to be somewhat
impaired for occupational purposes and her capacity to communicate in an intelligible and
effective manner was estimated to be adequate for occupational purposes. (Tr. 327). Dr.
Kralik also found Plaintiff’s ability to sustain concentration on basic tasks adequate for
occupational purpose, and her capacity to sustain persistence in completing tasks somewhat
impaired for occupational purposes. Finally, Dr. Kralik found Plaintiff’s capacity to
complete work-like tasks, within an acceptable time frame, somewhat impaired for
occupational purposes. (Tr. 327).
On January 22, 2008, Dr. Kay Cogbill, completed a Psychiatric Review Technique
Form on Plaintiff. (Tr. 330-343). Dr. Cogbill assessed Plaintiff with affective disorder,
anxiety-related disorder, somatoform disorder, and substance addiction disorder. (Tr.
330-338). Dr. Cogbill also completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment
of Plaintiff. (Tr. 346-348). In this assessment, Dr. Cogbill indicated Plaintiff was able to
perform work where interpersonal contact is incidental to work performed; complexity of
tasks is learned and performed by rote, few variables, little judgment; and supervision
required is simple, direct, and concrete. (Tr. 348). These finding support the ALJ’s RFC
determination of Plaintiff.
Dr. Kralik conducted a second Mental Diagnostic Evaluation on Plaintiff on March
26, 2008. (Tr. 377-382). During this evaluation, Dr. Kralik diagnosed Plaintiff with
psychological factors affecting medical condition, pain disorder, anxiety disorder, and
depressive disorder. (Tr. 381). Dr. Kralik stated Plaintiff’s capacity to perform daily living
and daily adaptive functioning to be intermittently and sometimes significantly impaired for
occupational purposes, and her capacity to communicate and interact in a socially adequate
manner was adequate for occupational purposes. (Tr. 381). Additionally, Dr. Kralik found
Plaintiff’s capacity to communicate in an intelligible and effective manner and her ability to
attend and sustain concentration on basic tasks to be adequate for occupational purposes.
On April 7, 2008, Dr. Brad F. Williams, completed a Psychiatric Review Technique
Form on Plaintff. (Tr. 383-396). Dr. Williams assessed Plaintiff with affective disorder,
anxiety related disorder, and somatoform disorder. (Tr. 383-392). Dr. Williams also
completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment of Plaintiff. (Tr. 413-415).
Dr. Williams stated Plaintiff was able to perform work where interpersonal contact is
incidental to work performed; complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, few
variables, little judgment; and supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete. (Tr. 415).
Plaintiff has the burden of establishing his claimed RFC. See Goff v. Barnhart, 421
F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 590 (8th Cir.
2004)). Because Plaintiff has not met his burden in this case and because the ALJ’s RFC
determination is supported by sufficient medical evidence, this Court finds the ALJ’s RFC
determination should be affirmed.
Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds that the decision of the ALJ, denying
benefits to Plaintiff, is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. A
judgment incorporating these findings will be entered pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure 52 and 58.
ENTERED this 22nd day of August, 2011.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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