Reddix v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Erin L. Wiedemann on August 17, 2017. (lw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
FORT SMITH DIVISION
KENNETH D. REDDIX, SR.
CIVIL NO. 16-2189
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, 1 Commissioner
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Kenneth D. Reddix, Sr., 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 October 9, 2013,
alleging an inability to work since October 1, 2012, due to a bad heart, a bad back, vision
problems, and water in the knees. (Doc. 11, pp. 431, 557). An administrative hearing was
held on November 25, 2014, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Doc. 11,
Nancy A. Berryhill, has been appointed to serve as acting Commissioner of Social Security, and is substituted as
Defendant, pursuant to Rule 25(d)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
By written decision dated February 16, 2016, the ALJ found that during the relevant
time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Doc.
11, p. 380). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease. 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. (Doc. 11, p. 382). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and §
416.967(b). (Doc. 11, p. 383). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a steam press operator. (Doc. 11, p. 384).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which
after reviewing additional evidence submitted by Plaintiff, denied that request on July 15,
2016. (Doc. 11, pp. 5- 11). 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. 12, 13).
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. 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 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 her 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. §§ 404.1520,
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), abrogated on other grounds by Higgins v.
Apfel, 222 F.3d 504, 505 (8th Cir. 2000); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
Of particular concern to the undersigned is 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 the present case, the ALJ determined Plaintiff maintained the RFC to perform a full
range of light work. The RFC included no non-exertional limitations. In making this
determination, the ALJ pointed out that the non-examining medical consultants found Plaintiff
could perform unskilled work, yet this limitation was not included in the RFC. (Doc. 11, p.
381). A review of the record revealed that on September 16, 2015, Dr. Mark Dotson indicated
that he picked up that Plaintiff had “some mental impairment” and that Plaintiff reported that
he drank a little. (Doc. 11, p. 853). Dr. Dotson questioned what drinking “a little” actually
meant to Plaintiff. It is noteworthy, that on February 27, 2014, Dr. Terry L. Efird noted
Plaintiff’s report that he had already consumed a twenty-four ounce can of beer before the 8:00
a.m. consultative examination. (Doc. 11, p. 677). Dr. Efird also noted that he thought Plaintiff
smelled of alcohol. Dr. Efird also found that Plaintiff had remarkable difficulty on the tasks
of digit span and some general fund of information questions, and marked difficulty with
immediate auditory attention span. On December 18, 2015, Susan Brooks, PT, noted that
Plaintiff became confused when asked about his home, and then started to talk about when he
formerly lived in California and about a cookie in his lunch bag. (Doc. 11, p. 871). After
reviewing the record, Court believes remand is necessary for the ALJ to more fully and fairly
develop the record regarding Plaintiff’s mental RFC.
On remand, the ALJ is directed to address interrogatories to a medical professional
requesting that said physician review Plaintiff's medical records; complete a mental RFC
assessment regarding Plaintiff's capabilities during the time period in question; and give the
objective basis for the opinion so that an informed decision can be made regarding Plaintiff's
ability to perform basic work activities on a sustained basis. With this evidence, the ALJ
should then re-evaluate Plaintiff's RFC and specifically list in a hypothetical to a vocational
expert any limitations that are indicated in the RFC assessments and supported by the evidence.
The undersigned acknowledges that the ALJ=s decision may be the same after proper
analysis. Nonetheless, proper analysis must occur. Groeper v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1234, 1239
(8th Cir. 1991).
Accordingly, the Court concludes that the ALJ’s decision is not supported by
substantial evidence, and therefore, the denial of benefits to the Plaintiff should be reversed
and this matter should be remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
DATED this 17th day of August 2017.
/s/ Erin L. Wiedemann
HON. ERIN L. WIEDEMANN
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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