Barnett v. Colvin
ORDER affirming the decision of the Administrative Law Judge. Signed by Judge Nanette Laughrey on 3/9/2015. (Hatting, Elizabeth)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
of Social Security,
Case No. 6:14-CV-03339-NKL
Plaintiff Jason Barnett seeks review of the Administrative Law Judge’s decision
denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.
following reasons, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) is affirmed.
A. Medical History
Barnett suffered a small bowel injury, pelvis fracture, and left femur fracture in
2001 as a result of a car accident. In the aftermath of the car accident he received
treatment for his injuries and underwent physical therapy. He could not work for a
number of months. Following his recovery, Barnett returned to work and maintained
substantial gainful activity through July 6, 2011, his alleged onset date.
In July 2011, John Bumberry, M.D., diagnosed Barnett with a possible hernia.
Approximately a week later, Kyle Smith, D.O., diagnosed Barnett with poorly controlled
hypertension and prescribed medication. In August, Dr. Smith diagnosed Barnett with
anxiety and hypertension.
That same month, Barnett underwent surgery to have
hardware removed from his left femur. At a subsequent appointment with Dr. Smith in
October, Barnett reported anxiety and stated that he was not sleeping well; Dr. Smith
diagnosed hypertension, left hip pain, left knee pain, left femur fracture, anxiety, and
On November 14, 2011, Dr. Smith completed a Medical Source Statement –
Physical regarding Barnett’s capabilities. In this statement, Dr. Smith opined that Barnett
could lift up to five pounds, stand and/or walk for up to 30 minutes at a time and up to
four hours out of an eight hour workday, sit for 30 minutes at a time and up to five hours
in an eight hour workday, and could never climb, kneel, crouch, or crawl, and could only
occasionally balance and stoop. [Tr. 382-383].
In January 2012, Barnett again presented to Dr. Smith and was diagnosed with left
hip pain, hypertension, insomnia, diarrhea, and anxiety.
These diagnoses remained
largely the same throughout the remainder of 2012.
In November 2012, Matthew Ericksen, D.O., completed a physical examination of
Barnett at the request of Disability Determinations and returned a Medical Source
Statement of Ability to Do Work-Related Activities (Physical). Dr. Ericksen opined that
Barnett could lift 50 pounds occasionally and 20 pounds frequently; could sit, stand,
and/or walk for four hours at a time and up to six hours in an eight hour workday; could
only occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and could tolerate only
occasional exposure to extreme heat. [Tr. 440-445].
B. ALJ Decision
The ALJ denied Barnett’s request for disability benefits, concluding that he had
the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to engage in substantial gainful activity. The
ALJ concluded that despite Barnett’s severe impairments of status-post left
peritrochanteric hip fracture, left pubic fracture, left iliac crest fracture, sacroiliac
gastroesophageal reflux disease, and history of incisional hernia, he retained the
[T]o perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)
including lifting up to 5 pounds frequently and up to 10 pounds
occasionally, sitting up to 6 hours total in an 8-hour workday, and
standing/walking up to 2 hours total in and [sic] 8-hour workday,
with the following restrictions: he is unable to perform any work
activity requiring climbing; he must avoid work activity requiring
kneeling, crouching, and crawling; and he must avoid work at
unprotected heights or around hazardous machinery.
In determining the RFC, the ALJ considered the medical evidence of the record, as
well as Barnett’s testimony at the administrative hearing regarding the extent of his
symptoms. At the administrative hearing, Barnett testified that he was unable to work
due to chronic pain. He stated that he did not lift much weight due to his hernia, but was
able to take care of his three young children while his wife was at work. This care
included lifting his four month old child who weighed twelve pounds. Thomas Maxwell,
M.D., testified at the hearing that Barnett was limited to lifting and/or carrying less than
ten pounds both occasionally and frequently; could sit for up to five hours; could stand
and/or walk for up to two hours; could not climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; should not
kneel, crouch or crawl; and should avoid unprotected heights and hazardous machinery.
Following Dr. Maxwell’s testimony, the ALJ questioned a vocational expert regarding
Barnett’s RFC. The vocational expert testified that a person with Barnett’s RFC would
be able to perform jobs such as food and beverage order clerk, charge account clerk, and
document preparer. [Tr. 27-28].
Standard of Review
“[R]eview of the Secretary’s decision [is limited] to a determination of whether
the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Substantial
evidence is evidence which reasonable minds would accept as adequate to support the
Secretary’s conclusion. [The Court] will not reverse a decision ‘simply because some
evidence may support the opposite conclusion.’” Mitchell v. Shalala, 25 F.3d 712, 714
(8th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla” of
evidence; rather, it is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate
to support a conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th Cir. 2010).
Barnett argues that the ALJ erred in (1) failing to properly weigh the medical
opinions of the record; and (2) failing to properly assess Barnett’s credibility.
A. Medical Opinions
Barnett contends that the ALJ erred in affording Dr. Smith’s opinion little weight
and failing to properly evaluate Dr. Maxwell’s opinion.
Despite Dr. Smith’s role as Barnett’s treating physician, the ALJ was not obligated
to defer entirely to Dr. Smith’s opinion. In general, a treating physician’s opinion is
entitled to substantial weight.
Singh v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 452 (8th Cir. 2000).
However, the ALJ is obligated to afford controlling weight to a treating physician’s
opinion only if “a treating source’s medical opinion is well-supported and not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the case record.” SSR 96-2p.
In declining to adopt Dr. Smith’s opinion regarding Barnett’s RFC, the ALJ
Dr. Smith’s progress notes offer very few clinical or objective
findings. The undersigned notes that Dr. Smith frequently notes
“decreased range of motion”; however, these findings are usually
quite non-specific and do not indicate the affected joint.
Furthermore, there is no evidence of other clinical findings (i.e.,
crepitus, swelling, tenderness, muscle spasm, other objective tests,
etc.) that would support the extreme exertional limitations as
assessed. The basis for Dr. Smith’s opinion is therefore unclear, and
with no objective clinical or laboratory notes by that doctor or any
doctor to support the severe level of restriction, it does not meet the
criteria for substantial weight.
[Tr. 26]. As the ALJ noted, Dr. Smith failed to perform significant clinical or diagnostic
tests on Barnett to determine his functional abilities. Barnett’s medical records contained
notations regarding Barnett’s left hip and knee pain, decreased range of motion, abnormal
x-rays, and personal complaints regarding his symptoms, but nothing in the records
provide a basis for Dr. Smith’s extreme conclusion that Barnett was largely incapable of
functioning. Moreover, nothing indicates that Dr. Smith performed tests to ascertain
Barnett’s level of mobility. After noting the absence of clinical findings, the ALJ did not
simply substitute his own evaluation of the treating physician notes in rejecting Dr.
Smith’s conclusions, but looked elsewhere in the record for evidence of Barnett’s
Review of the remainder of the record provided substantial evidence for the ALJ
to conclude that neither Dr. Smith’s opinion, nor Dr. Maxwell’s very similar opinion, are
representative of Barnett’s capacity. Both opinions are inconsistent with Barnett’s own
statements regarding his abilities. For example, Dr. Smith noted in November 2011 that
Barnett could lift only five pounds. [Tr. 382]. Dr. Maxwell later opined that Barnett
could lift “less than 10 pounds both frequently and occasionally.” [Tr. 42]. At the
administrative hearing, however, Barnett testified that he routinely picked up his twelvepound child. [Tr. 42]. Additionally, in October 2011, Barnett stated in a Function Report
to the Social Security Administration that he was limited to “lifting – only 10 lbs.” [Tr.
202]. Barnett also noted in his Function Report that he was able to take care of his three
young children, help his wife get ready for work, pick up around the house, plan dinner
and lunches for his family, have in home preschool activities, and cook dinner for his
wife and kids. [Tr. 197]. These statements are inconsistent with the severe level of
disability noted by Dr. Smith and Dr. Maxwell, and provide substantial evidence to
support the ALJ’s decision to provide little weight to these doctors’ opinions.
Whitman v. Colvin, 762 F.3d 701, 706 (8th Cir. 2014) (concluding that the ALJ’s opinion
as supported by substantial evidence when the treating physician’s opinion was “more
restrictive than self-reported activities”); see also Imhoff v. Astrue, 2013 WL 30565, at *3
(W.D. Mo. 2013) (affirming the ALJ’s decision denying benefits where the claimant was
raising her three-year-old grandchild, which the ALJ noted could be both physically and
To reach the RFC determination, the ALJ also received guidance from Dr.
Ericksen’s 2012 examination and report.
Dr. Ericksen noted that despite Barnett’s
multiple diagnoses, “the patient should have no difficulty performing and sustaining
work-related functions such as sitting, standing, walking, handing objects, hearing,
speaking, and traveling despite any functional limitations.” [Tr. 439]. He then noted that
Barnett would be able to lift up to 20 pounds frequently and 50 pounds occasionally, and
sit, stand, and walk for four hours continuously and six hours in an eight hour workday.
Despite Dr. Ericksen’s opinion that Barnett suffered few physical restrictions, the
ALJ concluded that Barnett was limited to sedentary work with significant physical
restrictions. In fact, the ALJ adopted nearly all of Dr. Smith and Dr. Maxwell’s physical
restrictions outside of the lifting, sitting, and standing limitations. Given Barnett’s own
statements regarding his functional capacity and the lack of objective evidence in
Barnett’s medical records, substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decisions to give little
weight to Drs. Smith and Maxwell’s opinions and rely on Dr. Ericksen’s opinion in
determining Barnett’s sitting, walking, and lifting restrictions.
B. Credibility Determination
Barnett also argues that the ALJ erred in assessing his credibility. Specifically,
Barnett contends that the ALJ used his activities of daily living to assess his functional
abilities, rather than his credibility, and failed to analyze the Polaski factors in reaching
his credibility determination. See Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984)
(In analyzing a claimant’s subjective complaints, the ALJ is to consider the entire record
including the claimant’s medical records, third party statements, the claimant’s
statements, and factors including (1) the claimant’s activities of daily living; (2) the
duration, frequency, and intensity of pain and other symptoms; (3) dosage, effectiveness,
and side effects of medication; (4) precipitating and aggravating factors; and (5)
In light of Barnett’s statements regarding his activities of daily living, substantial
evidence supports the ALJ’s conclusion that Barnett’s testimony was not entirely
credible. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ noted that Barnett stated that he was able
to care for his three young children while his wife was at work. His ability to perform the
physically taxing chores that go along with caring for young children and a home is
entirely at odds with his claims of debilitating conditions.
While these activities
undoubtedly have bearing on the RFC determination, they must also factor into the
When a claimant’s actions contradict his statements about his
abilities, it is certainly permissible for the ALJ to discredit the claimant’s testimony. See
Travis v. Astrue, 477 F.3d 1037, 1042 (8th Cir. 2007) (“An ALJ may not disregard
subjective complaints merely because there is no evidence to support the complaints, but
may disbelieve subjective reports because of inherent inconsistencies or other
circumstances.”) (quotation omitted). Furthermore, the ALJ is not required to evaluate
every Polaski factor in assessing a claimant’s credibility. Smith v. Colvin, 756 F.3d 621,
627 (8th Cir. 2014). A substantial amount of evidence exists in the record regarding
Barnett’s ability to exert himself caring for his three young children and home. This
evidence is more than a “bare statement” of his ability to care for a child, and justifies the
ALJ’s conclusion that Barnett’s testimony at the hearing regarding the extent of his
disabilities was not entirely credible. Cf. Wood v. Astrue, 2013 WL 395820, at *2 (W.D.
Mo. Jan. 31, 2013) (concluding that the plaintiff’s statement that she was able to care for
her older, self-sufficient children “does not say anything about Plaintiff’s credibility”).
For the reasons set forth above, the ALJ’s decision is affirmed.
s/ Nanette K. Laughrey
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY
United States District Judge
Dated: March 9, 2015
Jefferson City, Missouri
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