Lucy v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Honorable Erin L. Setser on April 18, 2012. (sh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
HEATH R. LUCY
CIVIL NO. 10-3104
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Heath R. Lucy, 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 July 18, 2008,
alleging an inability to work since June 20, 2008, due to a broken hip and a pelvic fracture. (Tr.
119, 122, 143). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff maintained insured status through June 30, 2008.
An administrative hearing was held on January 21, 2010, at which Plaintiff appeared with
counsel and testified. (Tr. 22-58).
By written decision dated July 19, 2010, the ALJ found that during the relevant time
period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr. 11).
Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: residual effects of
a pelvis and left hip fracture, status-post ORIF; a cognitive disorder; a mood disorder, NOS; an
anxiety disorder, NOS; a disruptive disorder, NOS; and a personality disorder, NOS. However,
after reviewing all of the evidence presented, he 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. 11). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except
he is limited to only occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; no climbing of
ladders, scaffolding and ropes; occasional balancing and stooping; no kneeling,
crouching or crawling; and no exposure to extreme cold or wetness. In addition,
the claimant is limited to only simple, routine, repetitive tasks and only incidental
contact with co-workers, supervisors and the general public.
(Tr. 13). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform work
as a patcher. (Doc. 17).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which
denied that request on September 16, 2010. (Tr. 1-3). 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. 10, 11).
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. §§ 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); 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). A disability
claimant has the burden of establishing his or her RFC. See Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d
731, 737 (8th Cir.2004). “The ALJ determines a claimant’s RFC based on all relevant evidence
in the record, including medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and the
claimant’s own descriptions of his or her limitations.” Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584,
591 (8th Cir. 2004); Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005). 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).
In finding that Plaintiff was able to perform sedentary work with limitations, the ALJ
stated he gave “significant weight to the consultative psychiatric evaluation” performed by Dr.
Robert Hudson in March of 2010. (Tr. 15). The ALJ noted that Dr. Hudson found Plaintiff “had
no significant limits on completion of tasks in a timely manner and is able to maintain
friendships indicating some social ability.” (Tr. 15). The ALJ also pointed out that Plaintiff was
able to work nineteen hours per week at a video store owned or managed by Plaintiff’s
What is troubling to the undersigned is that while the ALJ stated he gave significant
weight to Dr. Hudson’s opinion, the ALJ failed to address the Medical Source Statement
completed by Dr. Hudson on March 21, 2010, indicating that Plaintiff had moderate1 to marked2
limitations in more than two areas of functioning. (Tr. 573-575). A review of this statement
revealed that Dr. Hudson opined Plaintiff had moderate to marked limitations in the following
areas: the ability to interact appropriately with the public; the ability to interact appropriately
with supervisors; the ability to interact appropriately with co-workers; and the ability to respond
appropriately to usual work situations and to changes in a routine work setting. (Tr. 574). Dr.
Hudson also found that Plaintiff had extreme limitations in performing complex tasks. (Tr. 573).
While the ALJ found Plaintiff could only do simple routine and not complex tasks, the ALJ
failed to address Dr. Hudson’s opinion that Plaintiff’s “ability to do simple thing[s] is
compromised due to personality factors.” (Tr. 573). As the only other mental RFC of record is
that of Dr. Vann Arthur Smith, who opined Plaintiff had even more serious limitations than those
found by Dr. Hudson, the Court finds remand necessary for the ALJ to more thoroughly discuss
the complete findings of Dr. Hudson when determining Plaintiff’s RFC.
As Dr. Hudson did not have Plaintiff’s complete medical file to review prior to
Moderate is defined as more than a slight limitation in this area but the individual is still able to function
satisfactorily. (Tr. 573).
Marked is defined as a serious limitation in this area. There is substantial loss in the ability to effectively
function. (Tr. 573).
completing the medical source statement, the ALJ is directed to address interrogatories to Dr.
Hudson asking him to review Plaintiff's medical records; to complete a RFC assessment
regarding Plaintiff's capabilities during the time period in question, and to give the objective
basis for his opinion so that an informed decision can be made regarding Plaintiff's ability to
perform basic work activities on a sustained basis during the relevant time period in question.
The Court also notes that while Dr. Hudson stated that he would not diagnose Plaintiff
with a cognitive disorder, Dr. Hudson indicated that a WAIS3 would be required to determine
Plaintiff’s cognitive ability. The Court strongly recommends that the ALJ more fully and fairly
develop the record regarding Plaintiff’s cognitive ability.
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.
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 18th day of April, 2012.
/s/ Erin L. Setser
HON. ERIN L. SETSER
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.
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