Trotter v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on April 9, 2018. (cnn)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
Civil No. 4:17-cv-04032
NANCY A. BERRYHILL
Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Lamond Trotter (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social
Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his applications for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and a period of
disability under Titles II and XVI of the Act.
The Parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all
proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and
conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 6.1 Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues
this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.
The Court previously entered an opinion in Plaintiff’s case.2 See Johnson v. SSA, 4:08-cv-
04032 (W.D. Ark. June 10, 2009). In that opinion, the Court reversed and remanded Plaintiff’s case
The docket numbers for this case are referenced by the designation “ECF No. ____” The
transcript pages for this case are referenced by the designation “Tr.”
The entire background of Plaintiff’s case is included in that opinion and will not be restated
for further consideration of the Polaski factors. Id. Since the time of that remand, the ALJ held an
additional administrative hearing on September 27, 2016. (Tr. 543-570). Thereafter, the ALJ entered
an additional unfavorable decision. (Tr. 345-355). This is the decision currently on appeal before
In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through
June 30, 2006. (Tr. 348, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial
Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since August 21, 2003, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 348, Finding 2). The
ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, cervical and lumbar
strains, irritable bowel syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 348, Finding
3). The ALJ, however, also determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 349-350, Finding 4).
In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined his RFC.
(Tr. 350-354, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined
they were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC for the
After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant
has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except that he can occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl and
kneel; cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; can occasionally climb stairs and
ramps; is unable to balance on narrow or moving surfaces, but is able to balance
occasionally on level machinery; can use either upper extremity frequently but not
continuously for reaching, handling, fingering and feeling; can understand, remember
and carry out short, simple instructions; can perform simple, routine tasks; can make
simple work-related decisions; can tolerate few if any workplace changes; and would
be able to tolerate occasional interaction with coworkers, supervisors, and the general
The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and determined he was unable
to perform his PRW. (Tr. 354, Finding 6). The ALJ did, however, determine Plaintiff retained the
capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 354355, Finding 10). The ALJ based this determination upon the testimony of the VE. Id.
Specifically, the VE testified that a hypothetical person with Plaintiff’s limitations retained
the capacity to perform work such as (1) addressing clerk with 81,300 such jobs in the national
economy; (2) surveillance system monitor with 113,020 such jobs in the national economy; and (3)
pneumatic tube operator with 71,760 such jobs in the national economy. (Tr. 355). Because Plaintiff
retained the capacity to perform this other work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not under a “disability,” as defined by the Act, at any time
through the date of his decision. (Tr. 355, Finding 11).
On May 12, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the
jurisdiction of this Court on May 16, 2017. ECF No. 6. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF
Nos. 12, 14. This case is now ready for decision.
In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner’s
findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
(2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than
a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the Commissioner’s decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001).
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. See
Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See 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 or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one year
and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel, 160
F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines a
“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 or her
disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the
familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged
in a “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly
limits the claimant’s physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the
claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the
regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience);
(4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past
relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can
perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f). The fact finder only considers
the plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience in light of his or her RFC if the final stage of this
analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).
In his appeal brief, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ’s disability determination is not supported by
substantial evidence in the record. ECF No. 12 at 1-21. Specifically, Plaintiff claims the following:
(A) the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ did not properly
assess his fibromyalgia, migraines, and chronic pain; and (B) the ALJ erred in the RFC assessment.
Id. Upon review, both of these arguments challenge the ALJ’s assessment of Plaintiff’s RFC. Thus,
the Court will only address whether the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff’s RFC.
Upon review of Plaintiff’s briefing in this case, the Court finds Plaintiff is arguing the ALJ
improperly assessed his medical records and subjective complaints. ECF No. 12 at 1-20. Notably,
Plaintiff claims the ALJ improperly considered his fibromyalgia, migraines, and mental limitations.
Id. Considering this argument, however, the Court finds Plaintiff has failed to establish he has any
additional limitations not already accounted for in the ALJ’s RFC assessment. Thus, the Court finds
no basis for reversal on this issue.
As for his fibromyalgia, the mere fact he has been diagnosed with this impairment does not
mandate he be found to be disabled. See SSR 12-2p. Thus, the Court cannot find a simple diagnosis
for fibromyalgia demonstrates he is disabled due to this impairment.
As for his migraines, Plaintiff admitted during the administrative hearing that his migraines
improved with medication. (Tr. 261, 330). The ALJ noted “he has been treated conservatively off
and on for . . . headaches . . . . he has not sought treatment since prior to the June 27, 2013 ALJ
decision.” (Tr. 351) (emphasis added).
Furthermore, in considering his physical limitations in general, the ALJ recognized that “based
on few objective diagnostic findings, consistent evidence of malingering, and scant treatment,
especially after the conclusion of the workmen’s compensation claim, the undersigned finds that, at
all times relevant herein, the claimant should have been able to perform a limited range of sedentary
work.” (Tr. 354). Accordingly, considering this information, the Court cannot find a basis for
reversal on this issue.
Plaintiff also argues the ALJ improperly assessed his mental RFC. ECF No. 12 at 17-20.
Specifically, Plaintiff claims a report from Dr. Betty Feir, Ph.D. demonstrates “significant mental
cognitive limitations” which the ALJ did not properly assess. Id. Upon review, however, the Court
notes that Plaintiff’s mental symptoms were treated conservatively with antidepressants. (Tr. 697697). During several visits, Plaintiff reported that Zoloft was helpful and improved his symptoms.
Id. As for any other alleged mental limitations, the ALJ did credit some of those subjective
complaints regarding his mental impairments to a certain extent reducing his RFC to simple tasks and
limiting his interpersonal contact. (Tr. 350). Thus, the Court likewise finds no basis for reversal on
Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds that the decision of the ALJ, denying benefits
to Plaintiff, is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. A judgment incorporating
these findings will be entered pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 52 and 58.
ENTERED this 9th day of April 2018.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?