Boone v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Erin L. Setser on March 7, 2014. (adw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
SUSAN BOONE, substituted party
for Jeffrey R. Boone
CIVIL NO. 12-3129
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Susan Boone, 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 16, 2009, and
February 1, 2010, respectively, alleging an inability to work since October 5, 2007,1 due to a
seizure disorder, and a severe head trauma. (Tr. 91). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff maintained
The ALJ noted that Plaintiff had filed a previous DIB application which was denied by an ALJ on October 5, 2007,
which is after Plaintiff’s insured status had expired. (Tr. 13). The ALJ found no good cause to reopen the previous
application as no new and material evidence was submitted.
insured status through September 5, 2005. (Tr. 11, 62). An administrative hearing was held on
July 22, 2010, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 240-267).
By written decision dated April 8, 2011, the ALJ found that during the relevant time
period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr. 13).
Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: a back disorder, a
seizure disorder, Hepatitis C, and a mood 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. 14). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that
he can occasionally climb, balance, crawl, kneel, stoop, and crouch. He must
avoid hazards, including unprotected heights and moving machinery. The
claimant can do work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work
performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote with few
variables and requiring little judgment, and supervision is simple, direct, and
(Tr. 16). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform work
as a machine tender, an assembler, and an inspector/sorter. (Tr. 20, 160-162).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which
denied that request on August 29, 2012. (Tr. 3-5). 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).
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. § 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 on appeal:1) the ALJ’s RFC determination is not
supported by substantial evidence; and 2) the ALJ’s decision denying benefits was not supported
by substantial evidence.
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 considered the medical assessments of examining and nonexamining agency medical consultants, Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, and his medical records
when he determined Plaintiff could perform light work with limitations. The ALJ discussed the
medical opinions of treating, examining, and non-examining medical professionals, including
the opinions of Drs. Terry L. Efird, Brad F. Williams, Cheryl Woodson-Johnson, Robert Redd,
Jerry Thomas, and Shannon H. Brownfield, and set forth the reasons for the weight given to the
opinions. Renstrom v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1065 (8th Cir. 2012) (“It is the ALJ’s function
to resolve conflicts among the opinions of various treating and examining physicians”)(citations
omitted). Based on the record as a whole, the Court finds substantial evidence to support the
ALJ’s RFC determination.
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 Eighth Circuit has observed, “Our touchstone is that [a claimant’s]
credibility is primarily a matter for the ALJ to decide.” Edwards, 314 F.3d at 966.
After reviewing the administrative record, it is clear that the ALJ properly considered and
evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, including the Polaski factors. A review of the record
revealed that Plaintiff completed a Function Report dated July 28, 2009, wherein he indicated
that he could perform household chores with breaks; help care for his dogs, which Plaintiff later
testified included small hikes on his three acres of land; shop for groceries and dog food, prepare
simple meals, and take care of is personal needs. (Tr. 121, 263-264). Plaintiff reported to Dr.
Terry Efird in September of 2009, that he was able to perform household chores independently,
that he could shop independently, and that he could perform most activities of daily living
independently. (Tr. 231).
The Court would 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). The record further revealed that
Plaintiff was able to come up with the funds to support his smoking habit, and occasional use
of marijuana. (Tr. 208, 229).
Therefore, although it is clear that Plaintiff suffers with some degree of pain, he has not
established that he is unable to engage in any gainful activity. See Craig v. Apfel, 212 F.3d 433,
436 (8th Cir. 2000) (holding that mere fact that working may cause pain or discomfort does not
mandate a finding of disability). Accordingly, the Court concludes that substantial evidence
supports the ALJ’s conclusion that Plaintiff’s subjective complaints were not totally credible.
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
Plaintiff's impairments did not preclude him from performing work as a machine tender, an
assembler, and an inspector/sorter. Pickney v. Chater, 96 F.3d 294, 296 (8th Cir. 1996)(testimony
from vocational expert based on properly phrased hypothetical question constitutes substantial
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 7th day of March, 2014.
/s/ Erin L. Setser
HON. ERIN L. SETSER
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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