Williams 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 07/25/2016. (KCB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
PAIGE A. WILLIAMS,
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
Case No. 2:15-CV-29-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 Paige A. Williams’s (“Williams”) application for
disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income.
Williams was born in 1971, and she alleged that she became disabled beginning
November 14, 2011. (Tr. 13, 20). Williams alleged disability based upon depressive disorder,
bipolar disorder, anxiety, and fatigue. (Tr. 157-63).
The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied Williams’ application for benefits,
and she filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The
SSA granted Williams’ request and a hearing was held on September 23, 2013. The ALJ issued
a written decision on November 18, 2013, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 8-21). Williams
filed a timely Request for Review of Hearing Decision with the Appeals Council (Tr. 7). The
Appeals Council denied Williams’ Request for Review. (Tr. 1-3). The decision of the ALJ thus
stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).
Williams filed this appeal on April 23, 2015. (ECF No. 1). Williams filed a Brief in Support of
her Complaint on August 27, 2015. (ECF No. 14). The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support
of the Answer on September 24, 2015. (ECF No. 15).
Decision of the ALJ
The ALJ found that Williams had the following severe combination of impairments:
major depressive disorder, recurrent (in partial remission) and panic disorder without
agoraphobia. (Tr. 13). The ALJ, however, determined that Williams 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. 14). The ALJ found that Williams
had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional
levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: she is limited to simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks, consistent with unskilled work as described by the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (DOT) and to superficial interactions with coworkers and the public, defined as casual and
perfunctory interactions. (Tr. 16). The ALJ found that Williams was unable to perform any past
relevant work. (Tr. 20). The ALJ determined that, based on Williams’ RFC, jobs exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Williams could perform.
Consequently, the ALJ found that Williams was not disabled. (Tr. 21).
The following is a summary of relevant evidence before the ALJ.
Williams testified on September 23, 2013, as follows:
Williams was born in 1971 and was 42 at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 35). She was five
feet and four inches, and weighed 185 pounds. (Tr. 35-36). Her weight has gone up since she
started taking Seroquel 1 and Epitol. 2 (Tr. 36). She says that taking Seroquel is worth the weight
gain because it calms her racing thoughts at night, helps her to sleep, and eases her anxiety in the
early morning. (Tr. 36-37). She began taking the Seroquel in July. (Tr. 37).
She takes Seroquel and Temazepam 3 at bedtime to help her rest. (Tr. 38). She takes
Epitol when she wakes up at 10:00 or 11:00 a.m.; the Epitol has the side effects of fatigue and
dizziness in the morning. (Tr. 38). She gets up late because she has a hard time going to sleep.
(Tr. 38). It takes her around two hours to get to sleep, even with the Seroquel. (Tr. 38).
Williams had problems with Xanax. (Tr. 37). She last took Xanax two years ago. (Tr.
38). She stopped taking Xanax by herself after suffering withdrawal symptoms for two to three
weeks. (Tr. 39). She took a prescription for Xanax from her employer, Dr. Kinim Smith. (Tr.
39). Williams signed the prescription. (Tr. 40). She was charged but not convicted. (Tr. 40).
Her husband has a hard time with Williams’ issues because she loses all of her joy, but it
is getting better with Seroquel. (Tr. 40). She has a 20 year old daughter, who attends Florida
State University (“FSU”). (Tr. 40-41). She moved to Hannibal on August 13, 2010. (Tr. 41).
She and her husband own a house. (Tr. 41-42). They own five acres of property and have four
dogs. She likes to go out on the property and watch the dogs. (Tr. 42). Her husband works for
the City of Hannibal but she does not work. (Tr. 42).
Seroquel “is used to treat certain mental/mood conditions (such as schizophrenia, bipolar
disorder, sudden episodes of mania or depression associated with bipolar disorder).”
Epitol “is known as an anticonvulsant or anti-epileptic drug. It is also used to relieve certain
types of nerve pain (such as trigeminal neuralgia).” http://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug10962/epitol-oral/details
Temazepam is used to treat sleep problems (insomnia).”
Williams alleges she became disabled on November 14, 2011 because that is when she
realized she becomes really depressed if she is off her medication for two months. (Tr. 43-44).
She has been married for three years. (Tr. 43). She is currently on Celexa, Restoril, Seroquel,
Epitol, Tegretol, and Lisinopril.
Williams states she cannot work even while
medicated. Although she is on Seroquel for the last three months and it is working because she
still has “really bad days.” (Tr. 46). She still gets panic attacks, although they are improved.
(Tr. 46). She could not go to see her daughter play softball at FSU in June because she “couldn’t
function.” (Tr. 47). She’s planning on traveling to FSU to see her daughter play soon. (Tr. 4849).
She last used Xanax on the day she was arrested, November 14, 2011. (Tr. 49). She
made sure that Dr. Spalding (at the Hannibal Clinic) did not give her Xanax because she became
addicted. (Tr. 49).
She graduated from high school and got her associate’s degree in the arts. (Tr. 53). She
has no formal accounting training.
She previously worked at Watson Clinic from 2001 to 2006. (Tr. 50). She started in
patient relations, where she handled customer service for patient billing. She later was promoted
to attorney settlements liaison, where she tried to broker settlements with attorneys. (Tr. 50-51).
She was promoted to reconciliation specialist, which included supervising the receptionists’
accounting and posting of the copays. (Tr. 54). Then, she became team leader of patient
relations where she oversaw patient relations. (Tr. 55). She was the collections supervisor from
2005-06, where she oversaw twenty-eight people. (Tr. 50, 55). She performed evaluations and
had hiring and firing authority. (Tr. 55-56). She learned how to do all of these things on the job
and never had any formal training.
In 2006, she started having difficulty performing her job. (Tr. 57). She was crying at
her desk and depressed. (Tr. 57). She went back to being a collections analyst at a different
clinic, Ascent Healthcare. (Tr. 57). She was there for six months. (Tr. 57). She left because she
could not perform her job. (Tr. 57-58). She again was crying at work. (Tr. 58).
After that, she went to work as an office clerk, who helped out the office manager. (Tr.
58). She left on her own and got a job as a receptionist. (Tr. 58). Then she moved to Missouri
and got a job as a receptionist for Dr. Kinim Smith. (Tr. 58-59). Dr. Smith, a rheumatologist,
noticed that Williams was shaky and panicky and prescribed Williams Xanax.
Williams said she did not tell Dr. Smith that she had an addiction to Xanax. (Tr. 61). Williams
left that employment after she was arrested for forging the Xanax prescription.
Working makes her condition worse because she cannot be around people. (Tr. 59-60).
She has mood swings all the time, even on Seroquel, but the mood swings are less
frequent. (Tr. 61). She started feeling the effects of Seroquel about four weeks after taking it.
(Tr. 62). She has more bad days than good days. (Tr. 64). On really bad days, she will call her
husband at work every hour. (Tr. 64). She is not in counseling because she cannot afford it.
(Tr. 65). She was denied Medicaid. (Tr. 65). She is not on her husband’s insurance. (Tr. 65).
Vocational expert James Edmond Lanier testified as follows:
The ALJ asked Lanier to imagine a hypothetical person with Williams’ work history.
(Tr. 69). The first hypothetical person would be limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks
consistent with unskilled work, as described by the DOT, and limited to frequent interaction with
supervisors and coworkers, but occasional interaction with the public. (Tr. 69). Lanier stated
that the hypothetical person could not perform Williams’ past work.
However, such an
individual could perform medium work as a hand packer, hospital cleaner, or a kitchen helper.
(Tr. 69-70). The second hypothetical individual would have no exertional limitations but would
be limited to superficial interaction with coworkers and the public, which is defined as casual or
perfunctory interaction, but occasional interaction with supervisors. (Tr. 70). Lanier stated that
the second hypothetical individual could still perform all of the work outlined for the person in
the first hypothetical. (Tr. 70). The third hypothetical individual would be limited to simple
routine and repetitive tasks from hypothetical number one, and such person would also be
limited to occupations allowing the individual to work in relative isolation. (Tr. 71). Lanier
stated that there are no jobs in the national economy that would allow that type of work based
upon his professional experience and from the DOT. (Tr. 71).
Lanier also testified that if the hypothetical individual would be absent in excess of two
days per month on a chronic basis then they would not be able to sustain competitive
employment. (Tr. 71).
Williams’ relevant medical records are summarized as follows:
On November 14, 2011, Williams was admitted into the emergency room. (Tr. 289-93).
Williams had been abusing Xanax for a month and was arrested for forging prescriptions. She
was upset and began cutting herself superficially with a razor blade on the forearm. (Tr. 293).
On December 2, 2011, Williams was seen by Dr. Lyle Clark for depression and
medication management. (Tr. 408-09).
On December 6, 2011, Williams and her husband filled out a Function Report and
Function Report, Adult-Third Party. (Tr. 195-216). Both stated that Williams had no social
interactions and Williams only watched TV during the day.
On January 18, 2012, Williams was seen by Dr. Clark for medication management. (Tr.
On January 24, 2012, Mark Altomari, Ph.D. performed a Mental Residual Functional
Capacity Assessment. (Tr. 300-14). Dr. Altomari discerned that Williams could perform simple
instructions, interact adequately with others, and adapt to most usual changes common to a
competitive work setting. (Tr. 302). Dr. Altomari found that Williams had moderate limitations
in her daily activities, and in maintaining social functioning and concentration, persistence, or
pace. (Tr. 311).
On November 26, 2012, Williams was seen by Joseph Spalding, D.O., for depression.
(Tr. 402-05). It was noted she was last seen in January 2012 by Dr. Clark. She was diagnosed
with major depressive disorder, recurrent in part remission, and panic disorder without
agoraphobia. (Tr. 402). She reported difficulty sleeping but that her mood had been good with
Celexa. (Tr. 402).
On February 7, 2013, Williams was seen by Dr. Spalding. (Tr. 398-99) She reported that
she had been abusing Xanax. She reported major depressive disorder and panic disorder.
On May 6, 2013, Williams was seen by Dr. Spalding. (Tr. 395-96). She reported that
she was going to Florida for 2 weeks.
On June 17, 2013, Williams was seen by Dr. Spalding. (Tr. 391-92). She reported racing
thoughts, anxiety, and needless worry. She indicated that she could not shut her mind off and
sleep, despite taking her medication. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
In September 2013, Dr. Spalding provided a Medical Source Statement of Ability to Do
Work-Related Activities (Mental). (ECF No. 415-17). Dr. Spalding provided an opinion that
Williams had marked limitations in interacting with others, and moderate to marked limitations
in performing complex instructions and making judgments on complex work-related decisions.
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. 4 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 59091; 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(f). 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
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
“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, 561 F.3d 837, 841 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(b)(1)).
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
Development of the RFC
Williams contends that the ALJ failed to conduct a sufficient credibility analysis. (ECF
No. 14 at 6). The ALJ determined that Williams retained the RFC to perform a range of simple
work with limited interaction with others and at all exertional levels. (Tr. 16). The ALJ
discerned that that Williams could perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks with superficial
interaction with co-workers and the general public. (Tr. 16).
Williams argues that the ALJ erred in giving little weight to her treating psychiatrist Dr.
Joseph Spalding’s medical source statement. (ECF No. 14 at 6). As previously noted, Dr.
Spalding authored a Medical Source Statement that opined Plaintiff had moderate to marked
difficulties understanding, remembering, carrying out, and making judgments on complex
Dr. Spalding stated Williams had major depression and panic
disorder, depressed mood, anxiety, problems with concentration, shortness of breath, increased
heart rate, diaphosesis, and that symptoms worsen when she in a work environment. (Tr. 41517). Dr. Spalding also found Williams had marked limitations in interacting appropriately with
the public, supervisors, co-workers, and responding appropriately to usual work situations and to
changes in a routine work setting. (Tr. 415-17). The ALJ gave Dr. Spalding’s analysis little
weight because Dr. Spalding offered only a “minimal narrative explanation of the limitations he
assessed and made no reference to his own treatment notes. His assessment is not entirely
consistent with those treatment notes.
There is little support for the extent of the social
limitations he identified in the objective medical evidence.” (Tr. 19).
Williams argues that the ALJ should have given Dr. Spaulding’s Medical Source
Statement greater weight. “A treating physician's opinion is given controlling weight if it ‘is
well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [a claimant's] case record.’ 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(d)(2).” Tilley v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 675, 679 (8th Cir. 2009). Williams contends that
there is ample evidence in the record that she struggled with mental illness that caused
limitations in her ability to function in the workplace. (ECF No. 14 at 10). Williams argues that
the ALJ did not fully consider Dr. Spaulding’s previous treatment of Williams which bolsters his
opinion. Williams contends that the ALJ should have evaluated factors such as the “length of the
treatment, frequency of examination, nature and extent of the treatment relationship, support of
the opinion afforded by the medical evidence, consistency of opinion with the record as a whole,
and specialization of the treatment physician.” (ECF No. 14 at 11). Williams claims that these
factors weigh in favor of Dr. Spalding’s opinion as he has treated her on a “regular basis for
almost a year when he authored the MSS”. (ECF No. 14 at 11). Williams further notes that Dr.
Spaulding would have had access to Dr. Clark’s notes because they worked at the same medical
facility. (ECF No. 14 at 11). Accordingly, Williams contends that Dr. Spalding was in the best
position to evaluate Williams’ limitations. (Tr. 14 at 11).
In addition, Williams asserts that the ALJ failed to cite “specific reasons” for the
credibility finding. (Tr. 14 at 11). Williams claims that the evidence showed that she was unable
to sustain improvement, despite taking her medications as directed. (Tr. 14 at 12). Williams
further notes that, although Williams had higher Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”)
scores, ALJs are “always quick to point out when the scores are below 50 that GAF scores have
limited value as opinion evidence as they are essentially snapshot estimates of an individual’s
level of functioning on the day of the assessment.” (ECF No. 14 at 12). Likewise, Williams
notes that GAF scores have a “subjective component and vary between different mental
healthcare providers, which lowers the reliability of the evidence.” (ECF No. 14 at 12).
Williams further contends that her mental health symptoms are not merely situational stressors
but that she was unable to deal with life’s stress because of her mental illness. (ECF No. 14 at
12). Finally, Williams asserts that her volunteerism at the bus barn is only referenced once on
October 29, 2012 treatment note and cannot be used as a basis to find she can perform full-time
work. (ECF No. 14 at 12-13).
The Court holds that in finding that Williams was capable of a range of simple work with
limited interaction with others, the ALJ considered the record as a whole, including Williams’
subjective complaints. (Tr. 13-20). “Before determining a claimant’s RFC, the ALJ first must
evaluate the claimant’s credibility.” Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1218 (8th Cir. 2001).
“The duty of deciding questions of fact, including the credibility of [Williams’] subjective
testimony, rests with the Commissioner.” Gregg v. Barnhart, 354 F.3d 710, 713 (8th Cir. 2003).
“If an ALJ explicitly discredits the claimant's testimony and gives good reason for doing so, we
will normally defer to the ALJ's credibility determination.” Gregg, 354 F.3d at 714 (citing
Russell v. Sullivan, 950 F.2d 542, 545 (8th Cir. 1991)).
The ALJ properly considered that Williams’ allegations were not entirely credible. (Tr.
17, 20). The ALJ determined that Williams’ complaints were inconsistent with the record as a
whole, including the medical opinions, his medical treatment, the medical evidence, and her
daily activities. (Tr. 13-20).
The ALJ evaluated Dr. Spalding’s medical opinions, but found them entitled to little
weight, and the ALJ gave the opinions of Dr. Altomari, the state agency medical consultant,
great weight. (Tr. 19, 300-14). The Court holds that the ALJ’s RFC finding that Williams could
perform a light range of work was supported by Dr. Altomari’s opinion.
Dr. Altomari found
that Plaintiff had moderate limitations in her daily activities and in maintaining social
functioning and concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 311). Based upon these moderate
limitations, Dr. Altomari opined that Williams could perform simple work instruction, maintain
attendance and sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision, interact adequately with
peers and supervisors, and adapt to most usual changes common to competitive work setting.
(Tr. 302). The ALJ found that Dr. Altomari’s opinion was supported by a narrative explanation
and generally consistent with the medical evidence. (Tr. 19). Therefore, the ALJ gave Dr.
Altomari’s opinion great weight and limited Williams to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks.
(Tr. 16, 19).
In turn, ALJ also evaluated Dr. Spalding’s opinion and found it was entitled to little
weight because it was not supported by a narrative explanation and was inconsistent with the
records as a whole. (Tr. 19). Cf. Choate v. Barnhart, 457 F.3d 865, 869 (8th Cir. 2006) (“A
treating physician's medical opinion is given controlling weight if that opinion is ‘well-supported
by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with
the other substantial evidence in [the] case record.’”)(internal citation omitted). The medical
records generally showed that Williams appeared alert, oriented, pleasant, and cooperative with
normal speech, logical thought process, judgment and insight. (Tr. 15, 18-19, 287, 295, 298,
359-60, 384, 393, 396, 400, 404, 420). None of the medical records show that Williams had
marked limitation in interacting with others. (Tr. 15, 19, 269, 287, 295, 298, 384). The ALJ also
properly discerned that Dr. Spalding’s GAF scores of 60 and 65 are contrary to the doctor’s
opinion. (Tr. 18-19, 397, 400, 404). See Myers v. Colvin, 721 F.3d 521, 525 (8th Cir. 2013)
(“we have considered GAF scores in reviewing an ALJ's determination that a treating source's
opinion was inconsistent with the treatment record”).
The Court notes that the ALJ gave Dr. Spaulding’s opinion little weight, but accounted
for Williams’ limitations to the extent that they were credible. (Tr. 16). Dr. Spalding opined that
Williams had marked limitations interacting with others. (Tr. 415). Although the ALJ found
that Dr. Spalding’s limitation was not supported by the record, he restricted Williams to
superficial interaction with co-workers and the general public. (Tr. 16). Dr. Spalding also
believed that Williams had moderate to marked limitation in performing complex work-related
decisions. (Tr. 415). In turn, the ALJ restricted Williams to simple, routine, and repetitive work.
(Tr. 16). Thus, the ALJ considered Dr. Spalding’s opinion and included the credible portions of
his opinion in the RFC. (Tr. 16, 19).
In addition to the medical opinions, the ALJ considered Williams’ medical treatment.
Upon review of the record, Williams sought treatment when her impairments were exacerbated
by situational stressors, such as legal problems, family conflicts, and death. (Tr. 18, 244, 247,
251, 262, 285-86, 293, 402). See Gates v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 1080, 1082 (8th Cir. 2010) (“The
medical record supports the conclusion that any depression experienced by Gates was situational
in nature, related to marital issues, and improved with a regimen of medication and
counseling.”); Banks v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 820, 826 (8th Cir. 2001) (Substantial evidence
supported the ALJ’s discrediting plaintiff’s claims of “disabling depression as inconsistent with
her daily activities, particularly her level of church involvement, and as inconsistent with the her
failure to seek additional psychiatric treatment.”). Williams also sought treatment when she
exhibited drug-seeking behavior as part of her addiction to Xanax.
(Tr. 40, 251, 267-68, 270,
293, 295). Further, the ALJ noted that Williams had significant improvement after taking
Seroquel. (Tr. 19). “‘If impairment can be controlled by treatment or medication, it cannot be
considered disabling.’” Renstrom v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1066 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Brown
v. Astrue, 611 F.3d 941, 955 (8th Cir. 2010)). Williams testified that she experienced great
progress after going on Seroquel. (Tr. 36, 40, 42, 44-45). Thus, Williams’ improvement with
treatment did not support her allegation of disability.
The Court holds that
Williams’ minimal and conservative treatment does not support her allegations of disability. (Tr.
The Court holds that such objective findings constitute medical evidence to support a
finding that a claimant can perform light or medium work. Although Williams alleged disability
based upon mental impairments, Williams appeared alert, oriented, pleasant and cooperative,
with normal speech, logical thought process, and intact judgment and insight according to her
medical records. (Tr. 287, 295, 298, 359-60, 384, 393, 396, 400, 404, 420). Williams was
assigned a GAF between 54 and 65. (Tr. 15, 18, 287, 397, 400, 404). The Court finds that
Williams’ medical evidence and GAF scores are consistent with the ALJ’s RFC finding. (Tr.
16). The Court holds that the ALJ properly considered the medical records, which did not
support Williams’ alleged limitations, and found that Williams was not disabled.
Finally, the Court holds that the ALJ properly evaluated Williams’ daily activities when
determining her limitations. (Tr. 19). Williams claimed she had no daily activities and had
significant difficulties interacting with others. (Tr. 195-215). However, the medical records
revealed that Williams volunteered at a school bus barn and she was responsible for helping load
children onto school buses. (Tr. 343). The ALJ properly noted that Williams’ volunteer activity
required greater ability to interact with others than she had alleged and supported the finding that
Williams could have superficial interaction with others. (Tr. 19).
In sum, the Court holds that the ALJ properly evaluated Williams’ credibility and found
her allegations not credible. The ALJ evaluated the medical source statements, her treating
physicians, the medical evidence and her daily activities, which do not support Williams’
allegations of disability. The Court holds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s finding
that Williams could perform a range of simple work with limited interaction with others.
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 25th day of July, 2016.
RONNIE L. WHITE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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