Robinson v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Erin L. Setser on May 23, 2013. (tg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
LOLA NADINE ROBINSON
CIVIL NO. 12-5052
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,1 Commissioner
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Lola Nadine Robinson, 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 her 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 her current applications for DIB and SSI on May 11, 2009,
alleging an inability to work since January 1, 2009, due to thyroid problems, a slipped disc,
kidney problems, acid reflux, upper respiratory problems, and depression. (Tr. 129, 136, 162).
Carolyn Colvin became the Acting Social Security Commissioner on February 14, 2013. Pursuant to Rule
25(d)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Carolyn Colvin has been substituted for Commissioner Michael
J. Astrue as the Defendant in this suit.
An administrative hearing was held on January 22, 2010, at which Plaintiff appeared with
counsel and testified. (Tr. 33-67).
By written decision dated September 7, 2010, the ALJ found that during the relevant time
period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr.15).
Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: a back disorder,
obesity, and essential hypertension. 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. 16 ). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the
claimant can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch and crawl. The claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds.
(Tr. 16). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform her
past relevant work as a childcare worker. (Tr. 17).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which
denied that request on January 27, 2012. (Tr. 1-5). 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. 8,9).
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 her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one
year and that prevents her 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 her disability, not simply her 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 her 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 her 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 her residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138,
1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in concluding that the Plaintiff was not disabled
because: 1) the ALJ erred in failing to consider all of Plaintiff’s impairments in combination; 2)
the ALJ erred in the analysis and credibility findings in regard to Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints; 3) the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work;
4) the ALJ erred in determining Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a child care
worker; and 4) the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record.
Combination of Impairments:
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to consider all of the claimant’s impairments
The ALJ stated that in determining Plaintiff’s RFC, he considered “all of the claimant’s
impairments, including impairments that are not severe.” (Tr. 14). The ALJ further found that
the Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically
equaled one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 16). Such language demonstrates the ALJ considered
the combined effect of Plaintiff’s impairments. Hajek v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 89, 92 (8th Cir. 1994).
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 her pain; (3) precipitating and aggravating
factors; (4) dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of her 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, 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. With regard to obesity, a review of the record reveals
Plaintiff did not allege obesity as a disabling impairment when she applied for benefits nor did
she testify to problems she experienced due to obesity at the hearing before the ALJ. See
Anderson v. Barnhart, 344 F.3d 809, 814 (8th Cir.2003) (claim of obesity impairment waived
on appeal where claimant did not raise any limitation from the impairment in his application or
With regard to an alleged mental impairment, the record failed to show Plaintiff sought
treatment from a mental health professional. See Gowell v. Apfel, 242 F.3d 793, 796 (8th Cir.
2001) (holding that lack of evidence of ongoing counseling or psychiatric treatment for
depression weighs against plaintiff’s claim of disability). The medical evidence revealed that
Plaintiff did not consistently complain of mental symptoms. On June 5, 2009, Dr. Jerry R.
Henderson, a non-examining medical consultant, noted that Plaintiff had gone to the emergency
room twelve times over the course of the year with no psychiatric concerns. (Tr. 447). The
record revealed that Plaintiff testified that she was going to see someone at Ozark Guidance in
February of 2010, and while Plaintiff’s counsel indicated that she would submit records after the
administrative hearing no such records were submitted. The Court finds substantial evidence
to support the findings regarding Plaintiff’s alleged mental impairments.
Plaintiff’s reports concerning her daily activities are also inconsistent with her claim of
disability. At the administrative hearing in January of 2010, Plaintiff testified that she could lift
twenty to twenty-five pounds; that she could take care of her personal needs; that she could shop
and do household chores; and that she read and watched television. (Tr. 48, 50, 52-54, 57).
Plaintiff also completed a Function Report in May of 2009, indicating that she babysat two
children; took care of her personal needs; made simple meals; did household chores; drove and
shopped for groceries; and read, watched television and used the computer. (Tr. 183-190).
Therefore, although it is clear that Plaintiff suffers with some degree of pain, she has not
established that she 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
her 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 her medical records when he
determined Plaintiff could perform light work with limitations. The Court finds, based upon the
record as a whole and the well-stated reasons outlined in the Defendant’s brief, that Plaintiff’s
argument is without merit. Accordingly, the Court finds there is substantial evidence of record
to support the ALJ’s RFC findings.
Past Relevant Work:
Plaintiff has the initial burden of proving that she suffers from a medically determinable
impairment which precludes the performance of past work. Kirby v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1323,
1326 (8th Cir. 1991). Only after the claimant establishes that a disability precludes performance
of past relevant work will the burden shift to the Commissioner to prove that the claimant can
perform other work. Pickner v. Sullivan, 985 F.2d 401, 403 (8th Cir. 1993).
According to the Commissioner's interpretation of past relevant work, a claimant will not
be found to be disabled if she retains the RFC to perform:
1. The actual functional demands and job duties of a particular past
relevant job; or
2. The functional demands and job duties of the occupation as
generally required by employers throughout the national economy.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e); S.S.R. 82-61 (1982); Martin v. Sullivan, 901 F.2d 650, 653 (8th Cir.
1990)(expressly approving the two part test from S.S.R. 82-61).
The Court notes in this case the ALJ relied upon the testimony of a vocational expert,
who testified that Plaintiff’s past relevant work as a childcare worker is light work. See Gilbert
v. Apfel, 175 F.3d 602, 604 (8th Cir. 1999) ("The testimony of a vocational expert is relevant
at steps four and five of the Commissioner's sequential analysis, when the question becomes
whether a claimant with a severe impairment has the residual functional capacity to do past
relevant work or other work") (citations omitted). Accordingly, the ALJ properly concluded
Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a childcare worker.
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).
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 23rd day of May, 2013.
/s/ Erin L. Setser
HON. ERIN L. SETSER
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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