Richardson 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
JEREMY SCOTT RICHARDSON
CIVIL NO. 13-3037
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Jeremy Scott Richardsson, 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 claim for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under the
provisions of Title 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 application for SSI on March 29, 2010, alleging an
inability to work due to multiple injuries from a motorcycle wreck. (Tr. 84, 100). An
administrative hearing was held on September 19, 2011, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel
and testified. (Tr. 32-54).
By written decision dated October 21, 2011, the ALJ found that during the relevant time
period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr. 21).
Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
history of motorcycle accident with open book pelvis injury and left proximal
fibula fracture, mandibular fracture, scrotal and rectal tear and pelvic fracture,
multiple abrasions, and small laceration across the right knee, status posts right
internal jugular vein central line placement with #7 triple lumen catheter,
exploratory laparotomy with diverting colostomy and distal mucus fistula,
peritoneal exploration with primary repair of traumatic disruption of the distal
rectum right, irrigation and debridement of pelvic soft tissue and fascial
disruption, drainage of communicating scrotal contamination and injury.
(Tr. 21). 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. 21). The ALJ
found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a).
Although he is susceptible to hip and back discomfort, the claimant is able to be
present and attentive at a job cite performing sedentary work. He is able to
lift/carry up to ten pounds on a frequent basis. He can stand/walk for up to two
hours in an eight-hour workday, and can sit for six hours in an eight-hour
workday on a regular and continuing basis.
(Tr. 23). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform work
as a touch up screener, a rotor assembler, and a nut sorter. (Tr. 27).
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 February 6,
2013. (Tr. 1-4). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the
undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc.6 ). 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 issue on appeal: 1) the ALJ erred in the credibility analysis
with regard to Plaintiff’s subjective complaints of pain; 2) the ALJ erred in determining
Plaintiff’s RFC; and 3) the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record.
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 United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit observed, “Our
touchstone is that [a claimant's] credibility is primarily a matter for the ALJ to decide.” Edwards
v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003).
After reviewing the administrative record, and the Defendant’s well-stated reasons set
forth in her brief, it is clear that the ALJ properly considered and evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints, including the Polaski factors. As addressed by the ALJ, the record revealed Plaintiff
was able to perform some household chores including doing the dishes and cleaning. (Tr. 47).
Plaintiff also reported he could slowly mow the lawn once a week with a push lawnmower. (Tr.
47-48). Plaintiff testified that he could lift fifteen to twenty pounds. (Tr. 46).
The Court would also 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 also revealed
that Plaintiff was able to come up with the funds to support his smoking habit during the relevant
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.
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 non-examining
agency medical consultants, Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, and his medical records when he
determined Plaintiff could perform sedentary work. Plaintiff's capacity to perform sedentary
work is also supported by the fact that the medical evidence does not indicate that Plaintiff's
treating or examining physicians placed restrictions on his activities that would preclude
performing the RFC determined. See Hutton v. Apfel, 175 F.3d 651, 655 (8th Cir. 1999) (lack
of physician-imposed restrictions militates against a finding of total disability). Accordingly, the
Court finds there is substantial evidence of record to support the ALJ’s RFC findings.
Fully and Fairly Develop the Record:
While an ALJ is required to develop the record fully and fairly, see Freeman v. Apfel,
208 F.3d 687, 692 (8th Cir.2000) (ALJ must order consultative examination only when it is
necessary for an informed decision), the record before the ALJ contained the evidence required
to make a full and informed decision regarding Plaintiff’s capabilities during the relevant time
period. See Strongson v. Barnhart, 361 F.3d 1066, 1071-72 (8th Cir.2004) (ALJ must develop
record fully and fairly to ensure it includes evidence from treating physician, or at least
examining physician, addressing impairments at issue).
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 during the relevant time period Plaintiff's impairments did not preclude him from performing
work as a touch up screener, a rotor assembler, and a nut sorter. Pickney v. Chater, 96 F.3d 294,
296 (8th Cir. 1996)(testimony from vocational expert based on properly phrased hypothetical
question constitutes substantial evidence).
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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