Williams v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner denying benefits is affirmed. A separate judgment in accordance with this Memorandum and Order is entered this date. Signed by District Judge Catherine D. Perry on 3/16/15. (EAB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
) Case No. 4:14CV541 CDP
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, )
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 Komega Williams’s
application for benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq.1 Judicial review of the
Commissioner’s final decision under Title II is available under Section 205(g) of
the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence exists to support the
Administrative Law Judge’s Residual Functional Capacity determination, and the
Both the complaint and brief in support of the complaint filed by Williams allege that she
applied for Supplemental Security Income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.
However, the administrative record shows that she only filed a claim under Title II.
vocational expert properly relied upon that determination when testifying. I will
affirm the Commissioner’s decision to deny Williams benefits.
1.1. Procedural History
On August 8, 2011, Komega Williams filed an application for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.
After being issued an unfavorable determination, Williams received a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on January 10, 2013.2 The ALJ
determined that Williams was not “disabled” under the Act. The Appeals Council
denied Williams’s request for review, and the ALJ’s decision now stands as the
final decision of the Commissioner.
1.2. Evidence before the ALJ
1.2.1. Application for Benefits and Disability Interview
On Williams’s application for disability insurance benefits, she stated that
she was born in 1974 and became disabled beginning June 24, 2011. Tr. 139. In
her Disability Report interview, she alleged disability due to herniated discs,
sciatica, and bowel obstruction. Tr. 156. These conditions prevented her from
Missouri participates in a modified form of the disability determination procedures, which
eliminates the reconsideration step in the administrative appeals process. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.906, 404.966. Williams’s appeal proceeded directly from initial denial to ALJ review.
walking, sitting, or sleeping. Id. She reported that she had completed the 12th
grade and did not attend any special education classes. Tr. 157.
Williams recited her past work. From the 1990s to June 24, 2011, Williams
worked as a machine operator for several businesses, including a soda plant, the
Post Office, and at a cheese plant. During those years, her duties also included
packaging/assembly in 2009, clerical work in 2007, and carrying mail in 1998.
From 1996 to 1997, Williams worked as a reconcilement clerk for a bank. Tr. 157.
1.2.2. Medical Records3
In December 2002, Williams sought treatment from Dr. Neil Wright, a
neurological and orthopedic surgeon. She had experienced neck and shoulder pain,
as well as difficulties with fine motor function in both hands. Imaging revealed a
herniated disc at C5-6 with early myelopathy and a lumbar cyst. Dr. Wright
recommended surgical treatment via anterior cervical discectomy. Tr. 239–41. At
some point in December 2002 or January 2003, Williams had a post-anterior
cervical discectomy and fusion performed by Dr. Wright; at that time, she also
experienced herniated nucleus pulposus at C3-4 and C4-5 with myelopathy. Tr.
204. In March 2003, Dr. Wright noted that Williams had been diagnosed with an
Although the court has examined the entirety of the transcript, the summary of medical records
includes only those portions pertinent to Williams’s claims and the ALJ’s decision.
intestinal blockage due to endometriosis and was scheduled for surgery to remove
the pelvic mass. Tr. 237.
On June 30, 2004, Williams reported to Dr. Wright that she experienced
difficulty turning her neck and had pain in her left arm and hand, causing
clumsiness. She described episodic minor numbness in her left leg, but denied any
weakness in her legs. Dr. Wright diagnosed her with a disc bulge at C6-7 on the
left side, and prescribed an injection. He also noted that she has a mostly
asymptomatic lumbar arachnoid cyst. Tr. 235–36.
On March 31, 2005, Williams presented to Dr. Wright with complaints of
aches in her neck occurring with rotation to the right side. This caused aches in her
shoulder muscles, but Williams denied pain into her arms. She also complained of
numbness in both hands, occurring primarily when at her work while repeatedly
lifting and carrying. Neurological examination revealed 5/5 bilateral strength of
deltoids, biceps, triceps, wrist flexors, grip and hand musculature, with no
difficulty in her fine motor function in either hand. Dr. Wright diagnosed her with
carpal tunnel syndrome and cervical stenosis; he recommended anti-inflammatory
medications and wrist splints. He prescribed Ibuprofen 600mg three times per day.
On January 30, 2008, Williams’s primary care physician, Dr. Michael
Spezia, certified that she was physically fit to perform a strenuous firefighter
physical performance test, which included lifting, climbing, and carrying heavy
objects. Tr. 267. In March 2009, Williams reported to Dr. Spezia “in regards to
thyroid.” Tr. 262. Several times from August to September 2010, Williams saw
Dr. Spezia, describing symptoms of body pain and numbness in her hands and
legs. Tr. 255–258
On October 14, 2010, Williams complained to Dr. Wright of severe pains on
the left side of her body radiating from her neck down, with lower back pain and
pressure numbness in both arms and hands and both feet. She also said she was
unable to grip on the left side, was constantly dropping things, and off balance.
Radiological tests revealed herniated disks and compression of the spinal cord. Dr.
Wright recommended surgery. Tr. 229. Four days later, Williams returned to Dr.
Wright. Dr. Wright performed cervical discectomy at C4-5 and C3-4; he then
performed anterior cervical fusion at C3 to C5. There were no complications. Tr.
204–06. The next day, Williams was discharged from Barnes Jewish Hospital in a
stable condition with a diagnosis of cervical stenosis. She was permitted to
perform light activity with instructions to avoid heavy lifting or strenuous exercise.
On January 12, 2011, Williams returned to Dr. Wright, who reported that
she continued to improve. Williams had minimal residual neck pain and her arms
were much stronger and more coordinated, with no numbness or pain. Her gait
was also improved. Tr. 223. At her six-month follow-up with Dr. Wright for her
cervical discectomy on April 28, 2011, Williams reported that her work schedule
had increased to ten-hour days, six days per week. She noticed a corresponding
increase in axial neck pain, which she treated with heat and muscle relaxers.
During the physical exam, Williams experienced pain in her cervical spine at the
extremes of movement. Dr. Wright reported that the pains were most likely related
to work hours. Tr. 221.
On June 20, 2011, Williams saw Dr. Spezia for back pain. Tr. 246. A little
more than two weeks later, on July 6, 2011, Williams reported to Dr. Spezia that
she went to the hospital for a “slipped disc” and was experiencing back pain along
her left side; she requested pain medication. Dr. Spezia wrote that Williams could
return to work on July 18, 2011. In response to a telephone call from Williams one
week later, Dr. Spezia referred her to Dr. Wright for diagnostic imaging. Tr. 244–
Williams returned to Dr. Wright on July 27, 2011. She referenced a “pop”
in her back that she had experienced while getting off her couch on June 24, 2011.
Williams reported “fairly minimal neck pain and only with prolonged sitting,”
which constituted “a dull ache at most.” A radiological test showed an extradural
cyst at the thoracolumbar junction that was consistent with her known arachnoid
cyst. She experienced tenderness upon palpation of the right paraspinal muscles in
the lumbar region of the spine. Her cervical spine showed full range of motion
without pain. Williams denied any pain, weakness, or numbness in her arms.
When asked about her legs, Williams denied any numbness in the right leg, any
weakness, and any symptoms in her left leg, though she did admit to mild pain in
her right hip. Dr. Wright reported that Williams was doing very well with
improvement in her cervical radicular symptoms. He recommended epidural
injections in the lumbar spine. Tr. 219–220.
On August 1, 2011, Williams reported to the Washington University
Department of Anesthesiology for lower back pain at an 8/10 on the right side
extending down to her toes; she also reported pain in walking and using the
bathroom. After receiving a lumbar nerve root injection, Williams described her
pain at 0/10. Tr. 249–52. Two weeks later, Williams again sought nerve root
injections. She described her pain at a then-current 6/10, reaching a severity of
9/10 since her last visit, with the pain worsening after sitting or standing for 1.5 to
2 hours. She reported the pain interfered with her work “moderately severely.”
After the procedure, her pain was again at 0/10. Tr. 275–79. On August 29, 2011,
Williams returned for her third visit. She reported losing her job because she
lacked medical leave. Her pain was at 5/10, with a range in severity since her last
visit between 3/10 and 8/10. The pain interfered with her work “moderately.”
After the procedure, her pain was at 0/10. Tr. 280–283. On September 26, 2011,
Williams reported her pain was at 7/10, with a range from 2/10 to 10/10 since her
last visit. She did not obtain any medication because she lacked coverage. Tr.
In October 2011, Williams received a posterior lumbar laminectomy to
resect her arachnoid cyst; she also received a right-sided discectomy at L2-L3. She
reported pain only in her right leg. On discharge from the hospital after this
surgery, she was restricted to light activities. Tr. 292–94. At her follow-up
appointment on November 16, 2011, Dr. Wright noted that Williams reported back
stiffness and much improved right leg pain. Williams had no observed weakness
in both lower extremities, and her gait was normal. He recommended physical
therapy and discussed the possibility that she could return to work “in several
months.” Tr. 295.
On December 16, 2011, Dr. Wright authored a physician statement
describing Williams’s medical history. He asserted his belief that she would have
permanent restrictions on her ability to lift more than fifteen to twenty pounds and
controlling heavy machinery. Dr. Wright concluded that she “will not likely be
able to return to gainful employment.” Tr. 301.
Williams returned to Dr. Wright on January 11, 2012. She reported that she
has no “frank pain” in her back or legs, but does get “crampy pains” in her legs at
night while sleeping. She had no neck or arm pain, and no arm weakness or
numbness. Williams had full range of motion for both cervical and lumbosacral
spine, both without pain. Her walking was “much improved,” and she had a
normal gait. Williams also stated that she had been terminated from her job and
was applying for disability. Dr. Wright noted that she is doing “moderately well
with improvement in her radicular symptoms.” Tr. 334.
On July 24, 2012, Dr. Lawrence Wells submitted a physician’s statement for
disabled license plates to the Missouri Department of Revenue on behalf of
Williams. The application reported that because she could not walk fifty feet
without rest, she should be issued a permanent disability plate. Tr. 338. Notes
accompanying the application state that it was filled out for patient’s “bad days.”
Those notes also listed hypothyroidism among her assessments. Tr. 339. On
August 28, 2012, Williams complained to Dr. Wells of hypothyroidism, lowerback pain at an 8/10, and a runny nose. Her thyroid test was normal and she was
prescribed thyroid hormone replacement. Tr. 346.
On September 28, 2012, Williams reported to Dr. Nwanodi for her annual
gynecologic examination. A review of her symptoms lists no neck pain, no muscle
aches, no localized joint pain, and no localized joint stiffness. Tr. 350.
Finally, on November 28, 2012, Williams reported to Dr. Wells for followup and medication refills; she had “no problems or concerns.” Tr. 361. She
reported that she does not take her pain medications regularly. Dr. Wells’s notes
show that Williams was exercising regularly. Her sole assessment was rhinitis.
1.2.3. Claimant’s Testimony
Williams testified before the ALJ at the hearing held on January 10, 2013.
Tr. 25–51. Williams reported that she is right-handed and can drive a car. On the
alleged date of onset, she was sitting on her couch when she heard a loud pop in
her back and experienced pain.
Her doctor at that time was Dr. Neil Wright, who prescribed pain medication
and an MRI revealed a cyst and “a messed up disc.” Tr. 30–32. After trying
therapy she underwent back surgery. Dr. Wright refused to release her back to
work and gave rehabilitation instructions.
Williams takes hydrocodone twice a day for pain. She also takes thyroid
replacement medication, amitriptyline for muscle spasms, and the muscle relaxer
cyclobenzaprine. Over-the-counter medications include Aleve, which helps with
her pain without causing the drowsiness that accompanies her other pain
medication. Tr. 33–34.
Williams’s average day begins at 7:00 a.m. and ends at 10:00 p.m. She
walks to exercise and can stand to do chores for fifteen to twenty minutes before
needing rest. Tr. 35–36. Her left leg has given out on her when she walks any
longer, but her doctors recommended against using a crutch or any assistive
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device. When she last worked, Williams used a wrap to help her to sit upright; she
can now sit for thirty to forty-five minutes before needing to stand. Tr. 37. To
pass the day, Williams reads novels and occasionally visits with friends or family.
Each Sunday, she attends church for an hour and a half. Tr. 38–39.
Williams had two previous neck surgeries, the last being in 2010 to treat
herniated discs. Since that time, she experiences nerve pains in her neck extending
down her arm. After the surgery, she worked approximately six months full-time
before she hurt her back (and had the last surgery). During that time she worked as
a machine operator on the can line of a beverage company, where she also did
cleaning work. Tr. 40.
Williams testified about her prior jobs. Her work at the cheese plant
required lifting twenty to thirty pounds and standing. She worked there from 1998
to 2005, when the plant closed. Her work at the bank as a reconsignment clerk
involved data processing, and her bank teller job did not require reaching. Tr. 41–
Williams described the side effects of her medication as making her feel like
she was moving in slow motion. She also testified that her injuries prevent her
from being comfortable, from seeing her side-view mirror while driving, and from
keeping her head in a stationary position to look at a computer screen. Tr. 45–46.
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She uses a heating massage pad on her neck. Williams cannot reach over her head
without experiencing pain, but can reach forward. Tr. 47.
In 2003, Williams had carpal tunnel surgery on both sides. Her nondominant left hand hurts worse and sometimes gives out. Her dominant hand does
not have these difficulties, and she can pick up and manipulate small objects with
both hands without issue. Tr. 50–51.
1.2.4. Vocational Expert Testimony
A vocational expert (VE) also testified at the hearing. She described
Williams’s past machine packager, mail carrier, and cheese-making work as
medium unskilled and semi-skilled. The bank teller position was light skilled. The
VE classified the reconcilement clerk position as an adjustment clerk and was
sedentary skilled. Tr. 52–53. She testified that any skills used as a teller would
transfer to skills as a receptionist, which would be sedentary. Tr. 53.
The ALJ presented a hypothetical person of Williams’s age, education, and
work experience. This person could lift up to ten pounds, stand or walk about two
hours out of an eight-hour workday, sit for six hours, occasionally stoop, kneel,
and crawl. The person should avoid climbing, working at heights or in extreme
cold, should avoid whole-body vibration or heavy machinery, and working above
shoulder level bilaterally.
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The VE testified that such a person could not perform Williams’s past work;
but the hypothetical individual could perform a number of jobs that existed in the
national economy. Those jobs included sedentary semi-skilled jobs, such as a
receptionist or telephone solicitor; they also included unskilled work, like
document preparer, administrative support, and laminator. Tr. 53–55.
When adding the requirement that the person be permitted each half-hour to
alternate sitting and standing or stretching, the VE testified that all of the jobs
would still be workable. Missing more than two days per month or unpredictably
having to arrive late or leave early once per week would preclude work. Tr. 55–
56. Work would also be incompatible if the person had to alternate work positions
every fifteen to twenty minutes or if they actually had to leave the workstation
every thirty minutes. Tr. 57.
1.3. The ALJ’s Decision
The ALJ made the following findings in his decision dated February 11,
The claimant met the special earnings requirements of the Act
as of June 24, 2011, the alleged onset of disability, and continues to
meet them through the date of this decision.
The claimant has probably not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 24, 2011, although she had $628 in earnings
credited to her for the third quarter of 2011.
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The medical evidence establishes that the claimant has statuspost microdiscectomy at L2-L3, status-post surgeries to the cervical
spine, status-post bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, and
hypothyroidism , but no impairment or combination of impairment s
that meets or equals in severity the requirements of any impairment
listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4.
The claimant’s allegation of impairments, either singly or in
combination, producing symptoms and limitations of sufficient
severity to prevent the performance of any sustained work activity
is not credible, for the reasons set out in the body of this decision.
The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
the physical exertional and nonexertional requirements of work
except probably for lifting or carrying more than 10 pounds
frequently or more than 20 pounds occasionally; climbing of ropes,
ladders or scaffolds; doing more than occasional climbing of ramps
and stairs or more than occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, or crawling; working with either arm above shoulder
level; driving trucks or other heavy equipment; or having
concentrated or excessive exposure to unprotected heights or other
dangerous moving machinery, or to extreme cold or to whole body
vibrations (20 CFR 404.1545).
The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 404.1565).
The claimant’s residual functional capacity for the full range
of light-sedentary work is reduced by the limitations described in
Finding No. 5.
The claimant is 38 years old, defined as a younger individual
(20 CFR 404.1563).
The claimant is a high school graduate (20 CFR 404.1564).
10. The claimant possibly has acquired but not usable skills
transferable to the skilled or semi-skilled functions of other work
(20 CFR 404.1568).
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11. Based on an exertional functional capacity for light work,
and the claimant’s age, education, and work experience, 20 CFR
404.1569 and Rule 202.21, Table No. 2, Appendix 2, Subpart P,
Regulations No. 4 would direct a conclusion of “not disabled.”
Rule 201.28 in Table No. 1 directs the same conclusion if the
claimant is exertionally restricted to sedentary work.
12. Although the claimant’s limitations do not allow the
performance of the full range of light-sedentary work, there is,
using the above-cited Rules as a framework for decision-making, a
significant number of jobs in the local and national economies
which the claimant could perform. Examples of such jobs are any
of a total of about 8350 light or sedentary jobs in the State of
Missouri and about 321,000 of the same jobs nationwide as a
receptionist and telephone solicitor (sedentary), and document
preparer, administrative support worker and laminator (light),
according to vocational expert opinion.
13. The claimant was not under a “disability,” as defined in the
Social Security Act, at any time through the date of this decision
(20 CFR 404.1520(g)).
2.1. Legal Standards
A court’s role on review is to determine whether the Commissioner’s
findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Gowell v.
Apfel, 242 F.3d 793, 796 (8th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence is less than
preponderance, but is enough so that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the ALJ’s conclusion. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir.
2000). As long as there is substantial evidence on the record as a whole to support
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the Commissioner’s decision, a court may not reverse it because substantial
evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome. Id.
Nor may the court reverse because the court would have decided the case
differently. Browning v. Sullivan, 958 F.2d 817, 822 (8th Cir. 1992). In
determining whether existing evidence is substantial, a court considers “evidence
that supports it.” Singh v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2000) (quoting
Warburton v. Apfel, 188 F.3d 1047, 1050 (8th Cir. 1999)). Where the
Commissioner’s findings represent one of two inconsistent conclusions that may
reasonably be drawn from the evidence, however, those findings are supported by
substantial evidence. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001)
(internal citation omitted).
To determine whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence, the
court is required to review the administrative record as a whole and to consider:
(1) credibility findings made by the Administrative Law Judge;
(2) the claimant’s age, education, background, and work history;
(3) medical evidence from treating and consulting physicians;
(4) the claimant’s subjective complaints relating to exertional and
(5) any corroboration by third parties of the claimant’s impairments;
(6) testimony of vocational experts, when required, which is based
upon a proper hypothetical question.
Brand v. Sec’y of Dep’t of Health, Educ. & Welfare, 623 F.2d 523, 527 (8th Cir.
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Disability is defined in social security regulations as the inability to engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or which has
lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve
months. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). In determining whether a claimant is disabled,
the Commissioner must evaluate the claim using a five step procedure.
First, the Commissioner must decide if the claimant is engaging in
substantial gainful activity. If so, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
Next, the Commissioner determines if the claimant has a severe impairment
that significantly limits the claimant’s physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. 20 C.F.R. § 1520(C). If the claimant’s impairment is not severe, she is
If the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner evaluates
whether the impairment meets or exceeds a listed impairment found in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If the impairment satisfies a listing in Appendix
1, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled.
If the Commissioner cannot make a decision based on the claimant’s current
work activity or on medical facts alone, and the claimant has a severe impairment,
the Commissioner reviews whether the claimant has the Residual Functional
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Capacity (RFC) to perform her past relevant work. If the claimant can perform her
past relevant work, she is not disabled.
If the claimant cannot perform her past relevant work, the burden of proof
shifts and the Commissioner must evaluate whether the claimant can perform other
work in the national economy. If not, the Commissioner declares the claimant
disabled. See Cox v. Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 20 C.F.R.
When evaluating evidence of pain or other subjective complaints, the ALJ is
never free to ignore the subjective testimony of the plaintiff, even if it is
uncorroborated by objective medical evidence. Basinger v. Heckler, 725 F.2d
1166, 1169 (8th Cir. 1984). The ALJ may disbelieve a claimant’s subjective
complaints when they are inconsistent with the record as a whole. See e.g., Battles
v. Sullivan, 902 F.2d 657, 660 (8th Cir. 1990). In considering the subjective
complaints, the ALJ is required to consider the factors set out by Polaski v.
Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984), which include: “(1) the claimant’s daily
activities; (2) the subjective evidence of the duration, frequency, and intensity of
the claimant’s pain; (3) any precipitating or aggravating factors; (4) the dosage,
effectiveness and side effects of any medication; and (5) the claimant’s functional
restrictions.” Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 738 (8th Cir. 2004) (citing
Polaski, 739 F.2d at 1322). When an ALJ explicitly finds that the claimant’s
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testimony is not credible and gives good reasons for the findings, the court will
usually defer to the ALJ’s finding. Casey v. Astrue, 503 F.3d 687, 696 (8th Cir.
2007). The ALJ retains the responsibility of developing a full and fair record in
the non-adversarial administrative proceeding. Hildebrand v. Barnhart, 302 F.3d
836, 838 (8th Cir. 2002).
2.2.1. RFC Determination
Williams argues that her RFC determination is not supported by substantial
evidence, in that the ALJ ignored the only medical opinion evidence of record.
Williams points to Dr. Wright’s December 26, 2011, statement that Williams was
unable to work due to continuing problems with carpal tunnel syndrome and back
pain. Williams also points to a statement made by Dr. Wells to the State of
Missouri in support of a disabled parking permit for Williams, which asserted that
Williams could not walk more than fifty feet.
So far as Williams argues that the medical evidence establishes that she
cannot perform light work because she cannot walk more than fifty feet, that
argument cannot require reversal. The ALJ specifically found that Williams could
perform both sedentary and light work. Although Williams challenges the latter
finding, she does not contest the determination that she can perform sedentary
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The ALJ’s RFC determination must be based on some medical evidence, but
the ALJ is not required to rely entirely on any particular physician’s opinion.
Martise v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 927 (8th Cir. 2011). The ALJ is empowered to
resolve conflicts in the evidence, and “may ‘discount or even disregard the opinion
of a treating physician where other medical assessments are supported by better or
more thorough medical evidence, or where a treating physician renders
inconsistent opinions that undermine the credibility of such opinions.’” Goff v.
Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d
1010, 1013 (8th Cir. 2000). “A treating physician’s opinion that a claimant is
disabled or cannot be gainfully employed gets no deference because it invades the
province of the Commissioner to make the ultimate disability determination.”
House v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 741, 745 (8th Cir. 2007)
Dr. Wright’s statement in support of disability dated December 26, 2011,
suggested that Williams is permanently unable to lift more than fifteen to twenty
pounds at a time or operate heavy machinery. The ALJ credited that assessment in
his RFC determination. See Tr. 17 at ¶ 5. But Dr. Wright also based his
conclusion that Williams could not work on her carpal tunnel syndrome and back
difficulties. Medical evidence in the record shows that Williams has little
difficulty grasping and manipulating small objects with both hands, and her
testimony corroborates that conclusion as to her dominant hand. Medical records
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from 2012 show that Williams was capable of exercising and had full range of
motion for both her cervical and lumbosacral spine, both without pain. The
medical evidence conflicts with Dr. Wright’s opinion that back difficulties prevent
Williams from working, and the ALJ properly discounted that opinion.
Likewise, Dr. Wells’s opinion that Williams could not walk for fifty feet is
not supported in the record. The medical evidence shows that Williams had a
normal gait and did not experience weakness in her lower legs. Williams also
testified that she walks for exercise, can stand for fifteen or twenty minutes before
her legs give out, and that her doctors recommended against using an assistive
device when walking. This testimony undermines any inference that Williams is
seriously inhibited in this regard. The ALJ properly discounted the opinion of Dr.
I find that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision, upon which he
arrived following a proper legal analysis. Under the standards set out in Singh v.
Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2000), and Lauer v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 700, 704
(8th Cir. 2001), residual functional capacity “is the most [a person] can still do
despite [his or her] limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. This determination turns
on “all of the relevant medical and other evidence,” including statements from the
claimant. Id. This other evidence includes: (1) the claimant’s daily activities; (2)
the location, duration, frequency, and intensity of the claimant’s pain or other
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symptoms; (3) precipitating and aggravating factors; (4) the type, dosage,
effectiveness, and side effects of any medication the claimant takes or has taken to
alleviate his or her pain or other symptoms; (5) treatment, other than medication,
the claimant receives or has received for relief of his or her pain or other
symptoms; (6) any measures the claimant uses or has used to relieve his or her pain
or other symptoms; and (7) any other factors concerning the claimant’s functional
limitations and restrictions due to pain or other symptoms. Polaski, 739 F.2d
1321–22 (8th Cir. 1984); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529.
The ALJ found that Williams could perform light work, which necessarily
includes the ability to do sedentary work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567 (b) (“If
someone can do light work, we determine that he or she can also do sedentary
work, unless there are additional limiting factors such as loss of fine dexterity or
inability to sit for long periods of time.”). Sedentary work involves lifting no more
than ten pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying small items; it often
requires “a certain amount of walking and standing” as well. See 20 C.F.R. §
As discussed above, the medical evidence of record and testimony by
Williams demonstrates that she can stand for at least ten to fifteen minutes at a
time, carry up to fifteen pounds, and manipulate small objects. Williams also
testified that she can sit thirty to forty-five minutes at a time before needing to
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stand. Williams did testify that she takes hydrocodone for pain twice daily and her
pain medications make her feel drowsy and like she is moving in slow motion.
However, she also said that taking Aleve helps with her pain without the negative
side effects. Additionally, the medical records do not indicate that Williams
experienced significant side effects from her medications, and her most recent
records indicate that Williams is not even taking her pain medications regularly.
Finally, although Williams’s application listed her previous bowel
obstruction as a reason for her disability, that issue was apparently resolved via
surgery in 2003. As with that issue, her reported problems attributable to
hypothyroidism are not reflected in the transcript. The record contains substantial
evidence supporting the ALJ’s RFC determination that she can perform sedentary
2.2.2. Ability to Perform Other Work
Williams argues that the vocational expert’s testimony cannot constitute
substantial evidence that she is able to perform other work in the national
economy, because the hypothetical presented did not reflect her actual RFC. The
ALJ’s hypothetical question to the vocational expert needs to include only those
impairments that the ALJ finds are substantially supported by the record as a
whole.” Lacroix v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 881, 889 (8th Cir. 2006) (quotation and
citation omitted). The ALJ’s hypothetical questions included the limitations he
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found to exist and that were set forth in Williams’s RFC. As discussed above, the
RFC determination was supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the question
posed was also proper, and the VE’s answer constituted substantial evidence
supporting the Commissioner’s denial of benefits. See Lacroix, 465 F.3d at 889.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner
denying benefits is affirmed.
A separate judgment in accordance with this Memorandum and Order is
entered this date.
CATHERINE D. PERRY
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 16th day of March, 2015.
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