Buchanan v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
FINAL JUDGMENT REVERSING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING THIS CASE TO THE COMMISSIONER FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION PURSUANT TO SENTENCE FOUR of 42 U.S.C. 405(g). Signed by Honorable Mark E. Ford on May 27, 2016. (hnc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
FORT SMITH DIVISION
CLAYTON J. BUCHANAN
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:15-CV-2089-MEF
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
This cause is before the Court on the Plaintiff’s complaint for judicial review of an
unfavorable final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his
claim for disability benefits. The parties have consented to entry of final judgment by the United
States Magistrate Judge under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The Court, having reviewed
the administrative record, the briefs of the parties, the applicable law, and having heard oral
argument, finds as follows, to-wit:
Consistent with the Court’s ruling from the bench following the parties’ oral argument, the
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is reversed and remanded for further proceedings
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
The Court finds that the ALJ’s RFC assessment is not supported by substantial evidence.
The evidence reveals doctors have diagnosed the Plaintiff with bipolar disorder and antisocial
personality disorder. Dr. Patricia Walz conducted two consultative exams and concluded the
Plaintiff had marked impairments in social functioning; responding appropriately to usual work
situations and changes in a routine work setting; and, making judgments on complex work-related
decisions. (Tr. 442-443) Further, Plaintiff’s treating counselor, Susan Smith, having treated the
Plaintiff since 2012, opined he had marked limitations with regard to his ability to understand,
remember, and carry out detailed instructions; maintain attention and concentration for extended
periods; accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; and, get along
with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes. Further, she
assessed severe limitations in the areas of performing activities within a schedule, maintaining
regular attendance, being punctual within customary tolerances; sustaining an ordinary routine
without special supervision; working in coordination with or proximity to others without being
distracted by them; completing a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from
psychologically based symptoms; and, performing at a consistent pace without an unreasonable
number and length of rest periods. See Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012-13 (8th Cir. 2000)
(holding opinion of a treating physician is accorded special deference and will be granted
controlling weight when well supported by medically acceptable diagnostic techniques and not
inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record).
Claiming to have given Dr. Walz’s opinion great weight, the ALJ concluded the Plaintiff
could perform jobs requiring frequent judgment for simple work-related decisions, frequently
understand and carry out complex instructions, and to occasionally exercise judgment for complex
work-related decisions, interact with the public and co-workers, and deal with changes in work
settings. Given that the overall record supports the assessments of Dr. Walz and Ms. Smith, the
Court finds remand is necessary to allow the ALJ to reconsider the Plaintiff’s RFC.
Additionally, due to a flawed RFC, the Court does not believe the hypothetical questions
posed to the vocational expert included all of the Plaintiff’s impairments. Thus, the vocational
expert’s testimony does not constitute substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s decision. See
Martise v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 927 (8th Cir. 2011) (citing Lacroix v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 881,
889 (8th Cir. 2006) (hypothetical question to the vocational expert needs to include only those
impairments that are substantially supported by the record as a whole)).
On remand, the ALJ is directed to recontact Dr. Walz and Ms. Smith and obtain up-to-date
RFC assessments from them, requesting that they explain how any marked or severe limitations
might affect the Plaintiff’s ability to work in a competitive environment and around co-workers,
supervisors, and the public. Upon reconsideration of the Plaintiff’s RFC, based on the additional
RFC assessments to be obtained from Dr. Walz and Ms. Smith, the ALJ should reformulate the
hypothetical question to the VE to include all of the Plaintiff’s impairments.
IT IS SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED on this the 27th day of May, 2016.
/s/ Mark E. Ford
HON. MARK E. FORD
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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