Padgett v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Erin L. Setser on December 11, 2013. (lw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
TRENT L. PADGETT
CIVIL NO. 12-3161
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,1 Commissioner
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Trent L. Padgett, 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 23, 2010, and
August 5, 2010, respectively, alleging an inability to work since June 15, 2008, due to
deterioration of discs, spinal nerve damage, bone spurs, arthritis, high blood pressure, heart
Carolyn W. Colvin, 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.
arrythmia, plantar faciitis, a bleeding ulcer, severe chronic pain, and severe gout.2 (Tr. 154,
156,187, 201). An administrative hearing was held on September 8, 2011, at which Plaintiff
appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 39-89).
By written decision dated February 17, 2012, the ALJ found that during the relevant time
period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr. 12).
fibromyalia/myofascial pain syndrome; osteoarthritis and degenerative disk disease of the
thoracolumbar spine, non-cardiac chest pain, gout, right Achilles tendonitis, hypertension, and
obesity. 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 (RFC) to perform a full range of
sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R.§§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). The ALJ, with the use
of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (Grids), found Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 32).
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 November 8,
2012. (Tr. 1-4). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the
undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 7). Both parties have filed appeal
briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 10,11).
The Court notes that the ALJ’s decision notes that applications dates as February 2, 2010, and July 23, 2010. (Tr.
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); 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 the present case, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was able to perform a full range of
sedentary work. In making this determination, the ALJ did not address the December of 2011
opinion of Dr. Ted Honghiran, an orthopedic surgeon, who examined Plaintiff upon the request
of the Administration. (Tr. 683-687). While the Court notes that Dr. Honghiran did not have
the benefit of having all of Plaintiff’s medical records before him to review, Dr. Honghiran did
examine Plaintiff on December 12, 2011. Based upon this examination, Dr. Honghiran opined
that Plaintiff could sit for a total of four hours in an eight-hour day, one hour without
interruption; and stand and walk for a total of one hour each in an eight-hour day, one hour
without interruption. As the ability to perform a full range of sedentary work requires the ability
to sit for a total of six hours in an eight-hour day, and to stand and walk two hours out of an
eight-hour day, the Court is disturbed by the ALJ’s failure to discuss Dr. Honghiran’s opinion
that Plaintiff could only sit for four hours, and that Plaintiff would need to change positions after
one hour of work. Based on the foregoing, the Court believes remand is necessary for the ALJ
to more fully and fairly develop the record regarding Plaintiff’s ability to perform work-related
On remand, the ALJ is directed to discuss Dr. Honghiran’s assessment. If needed, the
ALJ can also direct interrogatories to the physicians who have evaluated and/or treated Plaintiff
asking the physicians 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 their opinions so that an informed decision can be made regarding Plaintiff's ability to
perform basic work activities on a sustained basis. 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 11th day of December, 2013.
/s/ Erin L. Setser
HON. ERIN L. SETSER
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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