Arnold v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that this action is AFFIRMED. A separate Judgment will accompany this Order. Signed by District Judge Ronnie L. White on 8/29/2016. (JMC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
CAROLYN COL VIN,
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
Case No. 1: 15-CV-81-RLW
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This is an action under 42 U.S.C . § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of
Social Security' s final decision denying Tammy Arnold' s ("Arnold") application for disability
Arnold filed an application for disability benefits on August 24, 2011.
Security Administration (" SSA") denied Arnold' s application for benefits, and she filed a timely
request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The SSA granted Arnold ' s
request and a hearing was held on September 17, 2013. The ALJ issued a written decision on
December 13, 2013 , upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 6-18). Arnold filed a timely Request
for Review of Hearing Decision with the Appeals Council (Tr. 5). The Appeals Council denied
Arnold ' s Request for Review.
The decision of the ALJ thus stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S . 103, 107 (2000). Arnold filed this
appeal on May 8, 2015. (ECF No. 1). Arnold filed a Brief in Support of her Complaint on
August 11 , 2015. (ECF No. 11). The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer on
October 5, 2015. (ECF No. 14).
Decision of the ALJ
The ALJ found that Arnold had the following severe combination of impairments: bipolar
disorder, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and history of marijuana abuse. (Tr.
11). The ALJ, however, determined that Arnold did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments 20 CFR
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(Tr. 13). The ALJ found that Arnold had the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels except for
performing more than simple, routine, repetitive tasks with no more than superficial interaction
with the public or co-workers and no more than occasional changes in routine work setting. (Tr.
14). The ALJ found that Arnold has no past relevant work. (Tr. 16). The ALJ determined that,
based on Arnold' s RFC, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Arnold
could perform. (Tr. 17). Consequently, the ALJ found that Arnold was not disabled since
August 24, 2011 , the date the application was filed. (Tr. 17).
The following is a summary of relevant evidence before the ALJ.
Arnold testified on April 11, 2013 , as follows :
Arnold appeared at the hearing without representation. (Tr. 26-27). The ALJ did not
have any medical evidence since March 2011. (Tr. 27-28). Arnold stated that she has been
seeing her regular primary doctor every month since March 2011. (Tr. 28). Arnold decided that
she needed representation to continue pursuing her claim. (Tr. 30-33).
Arnold testified on September 17, 2013, as follows :
Arnold' s attorney stated that Arnold has anxiety attacks at least twice a week. (Tr. 39).
Arnold has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, suicidal ideations, major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), and has crying spells. (Tr. 39). She has hypothyroidism,
which causes weight gain and lethargy. (Tr. 39). She has high blood pressure, which causes her
to get dizzy. (Tr. 39). She takes two medications a day. She gets headaches about twice a week.
Arnold was born in 1965 and is 48 years old. (Tr. 40). The highest grade she has
completed was Eighth grade, and she did not get a GED. (Tr. 40). She was in regular classes,
not special education. (Tr. 40). She can read. (Tr. 40). She can perform basic math. (Tr. 40).
She has a driver's license. (Tr. 41). She has not driven for two years because she gets nervous.
She lives with her daughter. (Tr. 41 ). She is 5' 1" and weighs 180 pounds. (Tr. 41 ). She has not
worked anywhere since August 24, 2011 . (Tr. 41 ). She has mental problems. She was sexually
and physically abused when she was younger. (Tr. 41 ). Her brother had intercourse with her
and she was abused by her children's father. (Tr. 42). She has nightmares three times a week
and flashbacks that cause panic attacks.
She has panic attacks twice a week on
average. (Tr. 41-42). The panic attacks last 30-40 minutes, when she feels like she cannot
breathe. (Tr. 43). She takes Klonopin for panic attacks. (Tr. 43). She was prescribed Klonopin
by Dr. Corwin at Ripley County. (Tr. 43). Dr. Corwin left the Ripley County office. Arnold she
sees a different doctor at Ripley County at least once a month for medication. (Tr. 43 -44).
She has been diagnosed as bipolar, which causes her to be unable to concentrate. (Tr.
44). She gets depressed. She has manic episodes where she bounces around from one activity to
the next. (Tr. 44). Sixty percent of the time she is in a deep depression; she is manic thirty
percent of the time; and she is normal ten percent of the time. (Tr. 44). Her medication helps
prevent her from being extremely depressed. (Tr. 44). She has no side effects from medication.
Physically, she gets out of breath trying to do things. (Tr. 45). She has problems with
her thyroid, which causes her weight gain, makes her tired, and causes her to become easily
agitated. (Tr. 45). She takes medication to regulate her thyroid. (Tr. 45). She takes medication
to control her high blood pressure. She has had panic attacks for a few years. (Tr. 46).
Arnold lives with her daughter in a house. (Tr. 46). She helps her daughter with the
cooking. Arnold can sweep and mop "when the mood hits [her]." (Tr. 47). She does not go to
the grocery store "if [she] can get out of it." (Tr. 47). She has a friend that will take her to the
grocery store. (Tr. 47). She has no outside activities. (Tr. 47). She watches whatever is on
television. (Tr. 47). She cannot concentrate on what is on TV. (Tr. 47). Dr. Corwin has not
recommended that Arnold see a counselor. (Tr. 48). She has been taking Klonopin every day
for a couple of years. (Tr. 48). She is not taking Xanax any more. (Tr. 48).
She takes Celexa
for her depression. (Tr. 48). Arnold is alright physically. (Tr. 48-49). Her educational level
would prevent her from working because she cannot comprehend reading very well. (Tr. 49).
She cannot cook or clean on a consistent basis. (Tr. 49). She has times that she is so
depressed that she cannot perform any household work. (Tr. 50).
Vocational expert Roxane Minkus testified as follows:
The first hypothetical person would be the same age as Arnold, with a limited eighthgrade education and no past work experience. (Tr. 51 ). This individual would be limited to
simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and would be unable to perform tasks requiring more than a
superficial interaction with the public or coworkers.
(Tr. 51-52). The individual would be
unable to deal with more than occasional changes in a routine work session. (Tr. 52). This
individual would have no external limitations. (Tr. 52). This individual could perform work as a
janitor, house cleaner for a hotel or motel, and as an industrial cleaner. (Tr. 52-53).
The second hypothetical person would have the same limitations as the first hypothetical
person, except the individual would have less than occasional contact with the general public and
coworkers. (Tr. 53). The second hypothetical person would still be able to perform work as an
industrial cleaner and a house cleaner. (Tr. 53). However, about 30-40% of the janitor positions
would require more interaction with the general public and coworkers. (Tr. 53-54).
The third hypothetical person would have the same limitations noted in hypotheticals one
and two, except would have the additional limitation of no contact with the public or coworkers.
(Tr. 54). No jobs would be available for such a person that had to work in isolation. (Tr. 54).
No jobs would be available for a person who would be off-task 20 percent of the time
because of psychological problems. (Tr. 54).
Arnold's relevant medical evaluations are summarized as follows:
On May 3, 2011, Christy A. Parker conducted a Physical Residual Functional Capacity
Assessment of Arnold. (Tr. 57-63). Arnold was noted to have no exertional limitations; only
occasional climbing and occasional balancing; no manipulative limitations; no visual limitations;
no communicative limitations; and to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. Parker concluded
that Arnold should be able to perform other work.
On May 10, 2011 , Mark Altomari, Ph.D. conducted a Mental Residual Functional
Capacity Assessment on Arnold.
Dr. Altomari concluded that Arnold was
moderately limited in her ability to carry out detailed instructions; her ability to maintain
attention and concentration for extended periods; her ability to complete a normal workday and
workweek without interruption from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a
consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; and her ability to
accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors.
determined that Arnold has the ability to understand, remember and carry out short and simple
instructions; she can relate appropriately to co-workers and supervisors in small numbers and for
short periods of time; she can adapt to most usual changes common to a competitive work
environment; and she can make simple work-related decisions.
On May 10, 2011 , Dr. Altomari also conducted a Psychiatric Review Technique. (Tr.
300-10). Dr. Altomari determined that Arnold suffered from anxiety-related disorders. Dr.
Altomari found that Arnold had moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning and mild
difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace.
On June 3, 2011 , Arnold was seen by Darrell Hutchison, M.D. with complaints of pain in
her lower back and upper legs due to stepping in a hole the previous day. (Tr. 311 ). She also
stated that her feet were swelling more with the heat, but that she was "doing good." (Tr. 311).
Arnold was admitted to behavior health at Poplar Bluff from July 30, 2011 through
August 4, 2011 for depression. (Tr. 321-34). Arnold admitted occasional marijuana use and
intravenous use of K2 eight months ago. Arnold was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, PTSD,
hypertension, hypothyroidism, and drug abuse. Her drug screen was positive for barbiturates,
benzodiazepine and THC. Arnold ambulated independently and performed her activities of daily
living independently. (Tr. 332). Arnold' s GAF at discharge was 50.
On August 30, 2011 , Arnold was seen at Corning Area Healthcare and diagnosed with
anxiety, hypertension, and depression. (Tr. 338-39).
She stated that the Lidoderm patches for
her lower back pain were helping.
On September 6, 2011, Arnold completed a Function Report-Adult. (Tr. 213-23). She
reported that she gets dressed, eats, watches TV, goes outside, watches more TV, takes a bath,
and goes to bed. She cares for her pets. She cannot stay asleep because she has too much on her
mind. She has no problems with personal care. She sometimes needs reminders to take her
medication. She can prepare frozen dinners and sandwiches. She prepares those meals daily.
She can do laundry two times a week and clean once a week. She does not do yard work. She
does not like to go out alone. She can drive but does not have a car. She shops in stores for
household items once a month for 45 minutes. She can pay bills, handle a savings account, count
change and use money orders. She spends time with others, talking on the phone or visiting in
She goes to the doctor every month.
She reported that she has trouble bending,
reaching, kneeling, talking, with her memory, completing tasks, concentrating, understanding,
following directions, and getting along with others. She does well with authority.
On October 6, 2011 , Arnold was seen for complaints of back pain. (Tr. 384). She was
prescribed Vicodin. She appeared alert and oriented, with no evidence of thought disorder.
On November 1, 2011, Arnold was seen for complaints of chronic anxiety. (Tr. 382).
She was given a referral for psychiatric help. She was alert and oriented.
On December 6, 2011 , John Singer, Ph.D. conducted a Psychiatric Review Technique of
Arnold. (Tr. 349-359). Dr. Singer diagnosed Arnold with affective disorders, anxiety-related
disorders, and substance addiction disorders.
Dr. Singer stated that Arnold suffers from
depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"). Dr. Singer also said that
Arnold suffers from marijuana abuse. Dr. Singer stated that Arnold has moderate difficulties in
maintaining social functioning; difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace;
one or two repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. Dr. Singer found
that Arnold remains capable of at least simple, repetitive tasks that do not require much
On December 6, 2011 , Dr. Singer completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity
Assessment of Arnold. (Tr. 360-62). Dr. Singer found Arnold is moderately limited in her
ability to understand and remember detailed instructions; moderately limited in her ability to
carry out detail instructions; moderately limited in her ability to maintain attention and
concentration for extended periods; moderately limited in her ability to complete a normal
workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to
perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods;
moderately limited in her ability to interaction appropriately with the general public; and
moderately limited in her ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism
From December 7, 2011 through May 10, 2013, Arnold was seen almost monthly at
Southeast Health Care for medication refills. (Tr. 366-73).
On April 5, 2012, Arnold was seen at Southeast Healthcare for medication refills and for
complaints of hurting her lower back on April 4, 2012. (Tr. 378).
On August 20, 2012, Arnold was seen at Southeast Healthcare with complaints of back
pam. (Tr. 375).
On December 19, 2012, Arnold had an MRI at Black River Medical Center. (Tr. 395).
The MRI showed degenerative changes, stenosis, and disc protrusions.
On March 8, 2013 , Arnold was seen at the Health Center of Ripley County. (Tr. 368).
Arnold complained of difficulty sleeping and that Haldol and Doxepin were not effective. (Tr.
On April 12, 2013 , Arnold' s laboratory results showed that she tested reactive for
On June 10, 2013 , Arnold was seen at the Health Center of Ripley County. (Tr. 365).
Arnold complained of continued problems falling and staying asleep.
Under the Social Security Act, the Commissioner has established a five-step process for
determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920, 404.1529. "'If a claimant fails
to meet the criteria at any step in the evaluation of disability, the process ends and the claimant is
determined to be not disabled. "' Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 590-91 (8th Cir. 2004)). In this sequential analysis, the
claimant first cannot be engaged in "substantial gainful activity" to qualify for disability benefits.
20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(b), 404.1520(b). Second, the claimant must have a severe impairment. 20
C.F.R. §§ 416.920(c), 404.1520(c). The Social Security Act defines "severe impairment" as
"any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [claimant' s] physical
or mental ability to do basic work activities ... ." Id. "The sequential evaluation process may be
terminated at step two only when the claimant' s impairment or combination of impairments
would have no more than a minimal impact on [his or] her ability to work." Page v. Astrue, 484
F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Caviness v. Massanari, 250 F.3d 603, 605 (8th Cir.
Third, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment which meets or
equals one of the impairments listed in the Regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 404.1520(d);
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If the claimant has one of, or the medical equivalent of, these
impairments, then the claimant is per se disabled without consideration of the claimant's age,
education, or work history. Id.
Fourth, the impairment must prevent claimant from doing past relevant work. 1 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(e), 404.1520(e). At this step, the burden rests with the claimant to establish his RFC.
Steed v. Astrue, 524 F.3d 872, 874 n.3 (8th Cir. 2008); see also Eichelberger, 390 F.3d at 590-
91; Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 737 (8th Cir. 2004). RFC is defined as what the
claimant can do despite his or her limitations, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a), and includes an
assessment of physical abilities and mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(b)-(e). The ALJ
will review a claimant's RFC and the physical and mental demands of the work the claimant has
done in the past. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(£). If it is found that the claimant can still perform past
relevant work, the claimant will not be found to be disabled. Id. ; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv).
If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to Step 5.
At the fifth and last step, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
experience to see if the claimant can make an adjustment to other work.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(v). If it is found that the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the
claimant will be found to be disabled. Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g). At this step, the
Commissioner bears the burden to "prove, first that the claimant retains the RFC to perform
other kinds of work, and, second that other work exists in substantial numbers in the national
"Past relevant work is work that [the claimant] has done within the past 15 years, that was
substantial gainful activity, and that lasted long enough for [the claimant] to learn how to do it."
Mueller v. Astrue, 561F.3d837, 841 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(b)(l)).
economy that the claimant is able to perform." Goff, 421 F.3d at 790; Nevland v. Apfel, 204 F.3d
853 , 857 (8th Cir. 2000). The Commissioner must prove this by substantial evidence. Warner v.
Heckler, 722 F.2d 428, 431 (8th Cir. 1983).
If the claimant satisfies all of the criteria of the five-step sequential evaluation process,
the ALJ will find the claimant to be disabled. "The ultimate burden of persuasion to prove
disability, however, remains with the claimant." Id. ; see also Harris v. Barnhart, 356 F.3d 926,
931 n.2 (8th Cir. 2004) (citing 68 Fed. Reg. 51153 , 51155 (Aug. 26, 2003)).
This court reviews the decision of the ALJ to determine whether the decision is supported
by "substantial evidence" in the record as a whole. See Smith v. Shalala, 31 F.3d 715, 717 (8th
Cir. 1994). "Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but is enough that a reasonable
mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion."
Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002); see also Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th
Cir. 2007). Therefore, even if a court finds that there is a preponderance of the evidence against
the ALJ' s decision, the ALJ' s decision must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial
evidence. Clark v. Heckler, 733 F.2d 65, 68 (8th Cir. 1984). In Bland v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 533 ,
535 (8th Cir. 1988), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held:
[t]he concept of substantial evidence is something less than the weight of the
evidence and it allows for the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions,
thus it embodies a zone of choice within which the Secretary may decide to grant
or deny benefits without being subject to reversal on appeal.
As such, "[the reviewing court] may not reverse merely because substantial evidence exists for
the opposite decision." Lacroix v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 881 , 885 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting Johnson
v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)). Similarly, the ALJ decision may not be reversed
because the reviewing court would have decided the case differently. Krogmeier, 294 F.3d at
Physical and Mental Impairments
The ALJ determined that Arnold was able to perform a full range of work at all exertional
levels. Arnold claims that the ALJ erred by failing to consider the combined effects of her
mental and physical defects. Arnold notes that she has suffered chronic mental impairments for
years. Her psychotropic medication is not helping. (ECF No. 11 at 8). In addition to her mental
impairments, she also suffers from a broad-based disc protrusion at L 1-2 with impingement;
impingement on the nerve root at L2-3; and bulges at L3-4, L4-5, L5-Sl. Arnold's condition is
exacerbated by her weight gain, which is caused by her hypothyroidism. (ECF No. 11 at 8-9).
Arnold maintains that she was entitled to have her impairments considered as a whole. (ECF No.
11 at 9).
The ALJ acknowledged Arnold's inpatient hospitalization from July 30, 2011 through
August 4, 2011. (Tr. 11 , 321-34). The ALJ found that her condition improved with medication
and treatment, and her mental status examination upon discharge showed that she was in stable
condition, fully oriented, calm and cooperative, with no suicidal or homicidal ideation. (Tr. 11,
322). The ALJ also found that there was no evidence her condition had deteriorated or that she
needed emergency or inpatient treatment during the relevant period, she had no formal mental
health treatment, and she received mental treatment only from her primary care provider, who
prescribed her medication.
(Tr. 11, 15, 286, 289, 291, 294). There was no evidence that
Arnold's medication was ineffective, and she testified that her depression medication helped and
had no side effects. (Tr. 15, 44-45). See Brown v. Astrue, 611 F.3d 941, 955 (8th Cir. 2010)
(quoting Brace v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 882, 885 (8th Cir.2009) ("If an impairment can be controlled
by treatment or medication, it cannot be considered disabling.")).
Arnold's arguments rely almost exclusively on evidence that she failed to submit to the
ALJ. In any event, the ALJ properly considered Arnold's credibility in finding her impairments
were not as severe as alleged. (Tr. 11-18). On March 8, 2013, Arnold was seen at the Health
Center of Ripley County. (Tr. 368). Arnold complained of difficulty sleeping and that Haldol
and Doxepin were not effective. (Tr. 368). This record is the only one cited by Arnold to support
her claim that she had several medication changes but her medication provided only temporary
benefits. (ECF No. 11 at 9). This record does not support Arnold's claim of total disability
based upon mental impairments.
Further, the ALJ properly found that Arnold had mild
limitations in her activities of daily living, moderate social functioning, and moderate limitations
in concentration, persistence and pace. (Tr. 13). Arnold's ability to cook, clean, grocery shop,
watch television, and live and function independently contradicted her claims of total disability.
(ECF No. 14 at 10 (Tr. 15, 46, 47, 49-50)). The ALJ determined that Arnold's testimony that she
could perform chores if she wanted or felt like it weighed against her credibility. (Tr. 46-47, 50,
Further, the ALJ properly relied upon the opinion of the state agency psychological
consultant who found that Arnold could perform simple work with limited interpersonal
interaction. (Tr. 14, 16, 349-62). The ALJ accommodated Arnold's credible limitations by
limiting her to simple, routine, repetitive tasks with no more than superficial interaction with
others and no more than occasional changes in a routine work setting. (Id.) Although Arnold
argues that she had marked limitations "[b ]ased on the medical in this claim" (ECF No. 11 at
15), she has identified no specific medical records to support her claims. Instead, Arnold relies
on her own statements that her mood swings, crying spells, panic and anxiety attacks, and other
mental health issues make her unable to work. However, Arnold ignores the medical records
that her mental status examinations were generally normal and that she did not seek separate
mental health treatment. (Tr. 382, 384).
Likewise, the ALJ found that Arnold' s impairments were non-severe.
Arnold did not discuss at the hearing before the ALJ judge any physical problems that would
prevent her from working. (Tr. 49). She stated that only her education prevented her from
working. The ALJ noted that Arnold had provided the ALJ with no evidence showing that she
was treated for back pain during the relevant period of alleged disability, i.e., since August 24,
2011. (Tr. 12). The ALJ noted that Arnold sought treatment in June 2011 for low back pain
after she stepped in a hole, and she was diagnosed with low back and upper leg tenderness. (Tr.
311). But there is little other evidence of any back pain in the record. Arnold' s December 19,
2012 MRI indicates degenerative changes, stenosis, and disc protrusions, but her treatment notes
fail to identify any functional limitations based upon Arnold' s back pain. She indicated that the
Lidoderm patches for her lower back were helping. (Tr. 338). Accordingly, the Court holds that
the ALJ properly did not account for Arnold' s alleged back pain because it was not supported in
the medical record.
Further, the Court holds that Arnold's other conditions cannot be the basis for a
functional limitation under the record. The ALJ properly found that Arnold' s hypertension and
hypothyroidism were stable and well-controlled with medication. Arnold also confirmed this.
(Tr. 12, 45 , 48, 285-86, 289, 291 , 294). Arnold faulted the ALJ for discrediting her alleged
impairment of hepatitis C, but the ALJ did not have the opportunity to review the records that
supported a hepatitis C diagnosis. (ECF No. 11 at 9-10 (citing Tr. 367-68)). Further, the Court
holds that the evidence submitted by Arnold shows no evidence of any functional limitations as a
result of her hepatitis C. (Tr. 367-68, 386). Further, Arnold' s ability to perform a wide range of
daily activities also weighs against her claim that she has disabling physical impairments. (Tr.
46, 47, 49-50, 214-17, 332). The ALJ properly analyzed Arnold' s physical impairments and
found that they were nonsevere. See 20 C.F.R. §416.921(a).
For these reasons, the Court holds that the ALJ properly analyzed Arnold' s mental and
physical impairments. (Tr. 11-18).
Arnold makes a separate, but similar argument, that the ALJ improperly discredited her
impairments. Arnold states that the records show that she was hepatitis C reactive and was
placed on medication. (ECF No. 11 at 9-10). Arnold contends that her mental impairments
consist of 90% of her disability, but she also suffers from chronic back pain. (ECF No. 11 at 11 ).
Arnold states that she suffers from hypothyroidism, which causes significant weight gain and
pedal edema at her ankles bilaterally. (ECF No. 11 at 11). Arnold claims that her weight gain
and ankle swelling alone would prevent her from performing janitorial work. (ECF No. 11 at 11).
Arnold further notes that she suffers from multi-level degenerative disc disease and chronic back
pain, as well as chronic fatigue and hepatitis C. (ECF No. 11 at 12). These factors would further
limit her ability to perform certain jobs, especially those requiring bending over frequently or
working in hot temperatures. Finally, Arnold maintains that she suffers mental impairments,
including bipolar disorder and panic attacks, but the ALJ only limited Arnold to no more than
superficial interaction with the public or co-workers and occasional changes in a routine work
setting. Arnold claims that she cannot perform work at all exertional levels, including as a
janitor and housekeeper, with her chronic back pain, multilevel degenerative disc disease, disc
bulges, panic attacks, PTSD, and bipolar disorder. (ECF No. 11 at 12).
As previously noted, the ALJ properly analyzed Arnold's mental and physical
impairments. At the time of the hearing, the medical records before the ALJ did not indicate that
Arnold was hepatitis C reactive.
However, the records submitted after the hearing do not
demonstrate that Arnold's hepatitis C implicated her functional capacity. The records generally
show that Arnold's physical impairments, particularly her hepatitis and back pam, were
nonsevere and her mental impairments were not as severe as alleged. (Tr. 11-18).
Further, the ALJ found that Arnold's poor work record weighed against her credibility
and indicated a lack of motivation to work. (Tr. 15, 183, 186). Arnold has only worked one job
for three days and has no past earnings or past relevant work. See Pearsall v. Massanari, 274
F .3d 1211 , 1218 (8th Cir. 2001) ("A lack of work history may indicate a lack of motivation to work
rather than a lack of ability."); Woolf v. Shala/a, 3 F.3d 1210, 1214 (8th Cir. 1993) (claimant's credibility
is lessened by a poor work history).
Finally, the ALJ stated that Arnold' s "substance addiction disorder consists of a history
of marijuana abuse." (Tr. 11). The ALJ found that this impairment imposed significant mental
functional limitations. However, the ALJ found that this impairment did not warrant any further
limitation. The Court holds that the record supports this finding.
Therefore, the Court holds that the ALJ decision reflects a proper credibility
determination and is supported by substantial evidence in the record.
Severity of Arnold's Mental Impairment
Arnold claims that the ALJ failed to evaluate the severity of her mental impairment listed
in Appendix 1, Part 404, Subpart P, regulation No. 4, Listings §12.04 and 12.06. (ECF No. 11 at
Arnold notes that the regulations provide a special method for evaluating mental
impairments. (ECF No . 11 at 13 (citing 20 C.F.R. 404.1520a and 416.920a)).
Arnold claims that her claim regarding deterioration of decompensation in work settings
should be evaluated under the fourth "B" criteria, her depressive disorder should be evaluated
under the revised "C" criteria under Listing 12.04, and her anxiety related disorder should be
evaluated under the revised "C" criteria under Listing 12.06. (ECF No. 11 at 14). Arnold asserts
that, even assuming she is moderately limited, the combination of her exertional and nonexertional limitations coupled with her mood swings, crying spells, hysteria, panic attacks,
anxiety attacks, and PTSD would prohibit work on a regular basis. (ECF No. 11 at 15).
The Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ' s finding that Arnold could
perform other work. See ECF No. 14 at 14-15. The Court first notes that the ALJ specifically
state that he considered the "paragraph B" and "paragraph C" criteria and found that they were
not satisfied. (Tr. 13-14).
In framing the RFC, the ALJ determined that Arnold had the RFC to perform work at all
exertional levels with limitations to simple, routine, repetitive tasks with no more than superficial
interaction with the public or coworkers and no more than occasional changes in a routine work
setting. (Tr. 14). The analysis is similar to that in McKinney v. Apf 228 F.3d 860, 864 (8th Cir.
The ALJ recognized that [Arnold] suffers from certain mental impairments and
accordingly determined that [Arnold] could not perform complex or technical
work. The ALJ also determined, however, that these impairments were not
disabling. We believe substantial evidence supports this conclusion.
The ALJ's finding that Arnold could work at all exertional levels was supported by Arnold' s
testimony that she had no physical limitations and her admission that she could perform activities
of daily living. (Tr. 14, 46-47, 49-50, 214-17). Likewise, the RFC limited Arnold to simple,
routine, repetitive tasks, which was consistent with the findings of the state agency psychological
consultant and with Arnold' s ability to perform her activities of daily living independently. (Tr.
14-15, 46, 47, 49-50, 214-17, 297-310, 349-362). Likewise, the limitations involved no more
than superficial interaction with the public or coworkers and no more than occasional changes in
her work setting, which is also consistent with the state agency opinion and with Arnold's
statements that she had some difficulty with socialization and routine changes. (Tr. 14, 217-19).
The vocational expert also considered a hypothetical question that included limitations that were
consistent with the ALJ's findings as to Arnold's RFC . (Tr. 51-52). The vocational expert
determined that positions exist that an individual with Arnold's limitations could perform. (Tr.
52-53). As a result, the vocational expert's testimony also constitutes substantial evidence to
support the ALJ's finding no disability.
In any event,, the Court holds that any failure to discuss any of the specific criteria for the
Listings, which the Court believes the ALJ did, was a harmless deficiency in the ALJ' s opinionwriting technique. The Eighth Circuit has stated that it "will not set aside an administrative
finding based on an arguable deficiency in opinion-writing technique." Strongson v. Barnhart,
361 F.3d 1066, 1072 (8th Cir.2004) (citing Brown v. Chafer, 87 F.3d 963, 966 (8th Cir.1996)).
This same rationale has been used in other circumstances where the deficiency in "writing
techniques" had no bearing on the outcome of the case. See e.g. Hepp v. Astrue, 511 F .3d 798,
806 (8th Cir.2008); Robinson v. Sullivan, 956 F.2d 836, 841 (8th Cir. 1992). Here, it is clear that
any failure to expressly discuss those Listing criteria did not affect the outcome. The ALJ
properly considered all of the evidence in forming the RFC, and the Court holds that the ALJ's
decision is supported by substantial evidence.
Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that the ALJ' s decision was based on substantial
evidence in the record as a whole and should be affirmed.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that this action is AFFIRMED. A separate Judgment will
accompany this Order.
Dated this 29th day of August, 2016.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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