Tudor v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Erin L. Setser on December 26, 2012. (lw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
FORT SMITH DIVISION
MITCHELL D. TUDOR
CIVIL NO. 12-2009
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Mitchell D. Tudor, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking
judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner) denying his claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
(DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under the provisions of Titles II and XVI
of the Social Security Act (Act). In this judicial review, the Court must determine whether there
is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. See
42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Plaintiff protectively filed his current applications for DIB and SSI on June 11, 2009,
alleging an inability to work since June 1, 2002, due to a broken back, a bone disease and a
tumor on the side of his head.1 (Tr. 102-105, 127). An administrative video hearing was held
on June 16, 2010, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 27-72).
Plaintiff through his attorney amended his alleged onset date to June 11, 2009. (Tr. 30-31). The ALJ dismissed
Plaintiff’s Title II application because Plaintiff’s alleged onset date was amended to a date after the expiration of
Plaintiff’s insured status on December 31, 2005. (Tr. 14).
By written decision dated January 31, 2011, the ALJ found that during the relevant time
period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr. 16).
Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine; chronic neck pain; degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder;
chronic sinusitis status post surgery; and major depressive disorder. However, after reviewing
all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or
equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in
Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 16). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except the claimant can only
occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can nevr (sic) climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds;
can only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; can perform no
overhead work; can have no concentrated exposure to extreme heat, extreme
cold, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation; can perform simple tasks
with routine supervision; and can perform work where there is only superficial
contact with coworkers, supervisors and the public.
(Tr. 18). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform work
as a small products assembler, a machine tender, and a inspector/tester. (Tr. 21-22).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which
denied that request on November 25, 2011. (Tr. 1-4). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action.
(Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 5).
Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 9,10).
The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments
are presented in the parties’ briefs, and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.
This Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir.
2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but it is enough that a reasonable mind
would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. The ALJ's decision must be
affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d
964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003). 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. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). In other
words, 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. McNamara v. Astrue, 590 F.3d 607, 610 (8th Cir. 2010).
It is well-established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden
of proving his disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one
year and that prevents him from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. Pearsall v.
Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir.2001); see also 42 U.S.C. § § 423(d)(1)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines “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 disability, not simply his impairment, has lasted for
at least twelve consecutive months.
The Commissioner’s regulations require him to apply a five-step sequential evaluation
process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial
gainful activity since filing his claim; (2) whether the claimant has a severe physical and/or
mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) meet or equal
an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevent the claimant from doing past
relevant work; and, (5) whether the claimant is able to perform other work in the national
economy given his age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. Only if the final
stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience
in light of his residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42
(8th Cir. 1982); 20 C .F.R. § 416.920.
Plaintiff argues the following issues in this appeal: 1) the ALJ erred as to the RFC; 2) the
ALJ erred as to credibility; 3) the ALJ erred regarding the vocational expert’s testimony of the
types of jobs that Plaintiff could perform. Defendant argues substantial evidence supports the
The ALJ’s RFC Determination:
RFC is the most a person can do despite that person’s limitations. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(1). It is assessed using all relevant evidence in the record. Id. This includes medical
records, observations of treating physicians and others, and the claimant’s own descriptions of
his limitations. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005); Eichelberger v.
Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 591 (8th Cir. 2004). Limitations resulting from symptoms such as pain
are also factored into the assessment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3). The United States Court of
Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has held that a “claimant’s residual functional capacity is a
medical question.” Lauer v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 700, 704 (8th Cir. 2001). Therefore, an ALJ’s
determination concerning a claimant’s RFC must be supported by medical evidence that
addresses the claimant’s ability to function in the workplace. Lewis v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642,
646 (8th Cir. 2003). “[T]he ALJ is [also] required to set forth specifically a claimant’s
limitations and to determine how those limitations affect his RFC.” Id.
In determining that Plaintiff maintained the RFC to perform light work with limitations,
the ALJ considered the medical assessments of the non-examining agency medical consultants;
the consultative examiners assessments; Plaintiff’s subjective complaints; and his medical
records. The Court finds, based upon the well-stated reasons outlined in the Defendant’s brief,
that Plaintiff’s argument is without merit, and there was sufficient evidence for the ALJ to make
an informed decision. Therefore, the Court finds there is substantial evidence of record to
support the ALJ’s RFC findings for the relevant time period.
Subjective Complaints and Credibility Analysis:
The ALJ was required to consider all the evidence relating to Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints including evidence presented by third parties that relates to: (1) Plaintiff's daily
activities; (2) the duration, frequency, and intensity of his pain; (3) precipitating and aggravating
factors; (4) dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of his medication; and (5) functional
restrictions. See Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984). While an ALJ may
not discount a claimant's subjective complaints solely because the medical evidence fails to
support them, an ALJ may discount those complaints where inconsistencies appear in the record
as a whole. Id. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit observed, “Our
touchstone is that [a claimant's] credibility is primarily a matter for the ALJ to decide.” Edwards
v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003).
After reviewing the administrative record, and the Defendant’s well-stated reasons set
forth in his brief, it is clear that the ALJ properly considered and evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints, including the Polaski factors. As pointed out by the ALJ, the evidence of record
revealed that Plaintiff did not seek on-going and consistent treatment for his alleged disabling
impairments. See Novotny v. Chater, 72 F.3d 669, 671 (8th Cir. 1995) (per curiam) (failure to
seek treatment was inconsistent with allegations of pain); Gowell v. Apfel, 242 F.3d 793, 796
(8th Cir. 2001) (holding that lack of evidence of ongoing counseling or psychiatric treatment for
depression weighs against plaintiff’s claim of disability).
The Court would also note that while Plaintiff alleged an inability to seek treatment due
to a lack of finances, the record is void of any indication that Plaintiff had been denied treatment
due to the lack of funds. Murphy v. Sullivan, 953 F.3d 383, 386-87 (8th Cir. 1992) (holding that
lack of evidence that plaintiff sought low-cost medical treatment from her doctor, clinics, or
hospitals does not support plaintiff’s contention of financial hardship).
Based on the record as a whole, the Court finds there is substantial evidence to support
the ALJ’s credibility findings.
Hypothetical Question to the Vocational Expert:
After thoroughly reviewing the hearing transcript along with the entire evidence of
record, the Court finds that the hypothetical the ALJ posed to the vocational expert fully set forth
the impairments which the ALJ accepted as true and which were supported by the record as a
whole. Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 794 (8th Cir. 2005). Accordingly, the Court finds that
the vocational expert's opinion constitutes substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's conclusion
that during the relevant time period Plaintiff's impairments did not preclude him from performing
work as a small products assembler, a machine tender, and a inspector/tester. Pickney v. Chater,
96 F.3d 294, 296 (8th Cir. 1996)(testimony from vocational expert based on properly phrased
hypothetical question constitutes substantial evidence).
Accordingly, having carefully reviewed the record, the undersigned finds substantial
evidence supporting the ALJ's decision denying the Plaintiff benefits, and thus the decision
should be affirmed. The undersigned further finds that the Plaintiff’s Complaint should be
dismissed with prejudice.
DATED this 26th day of December, 2012.
/s/ Erin L. Setser
HON. ERIN L. SETSER
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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