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Luttrell v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas

September 12, 2014

Lisa Marie Luttrell, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER

J. THOMAS RAY, Magistrate Judge.

Lisa Marie Luttrell seeks judicial review of the denial of her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB). Luttrell last worked in 2009 as a certified nurse's assistant.[1] Luttrell applied for DIB on January 24, 2011, with an alleged onset date of May 1, 2010.[2] Luttrell's date last insured (DLI) is December 31, 2014.[3] Luttrell bases disability on syncope, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), anxiety and severe depression.[4]

The Commissioner's decision. The Commissioner's ALJ determined that Luttrell has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.[5] Luttrell has severe impairments - syncope disorder, COPD, bilateral wrist dysfunction, lumbar spine dysfunction, anxiety, depression and an affective mood disorder.[6] None of Luttrell's severe impairments meet the listings, [7] and Luttrell can perform sedentary work with the following non-exertional limitations: Luttrell is able to occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl, kneel, and climb ramps or stairs; she is unable to engage in balancing; and she is unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she must avoid all respiratory irritants, extreme heat, and extreme cold; she must avoid all driving; she can have no exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights, moving machinery, or open flames; she is able to perform work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, with "incidental" defined as: interpersonal contact requiring a limited degree of interaction such as meeting and greeting the public, answering simple questions, accepting payment and making change; she is capable of learning the complexity of tasks by demonstration or repetition within thirty days with few variables and little judgment; she requires supervision that is simple, direct and concrete.[8]

The ALJ held that Luttrell cannot perform any past relevant work, [9] but can perform the positions of binder or mounter of small parts, positions identified by the vocational expert (VE) as available in the regional and national economies.[10] Luttrell's application was denied.[11]

After the Commissioner's Appeals Council denied a request for review, the ALJ's decision became a final decision for judicial review.[12] Luttrell filed this case to challenge the decision. In reviewing the decision, the Court must determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision and whether the ALJ made a legal error.[13]

Luttrell's allegations. Luttrell maintains that the decision of the ALJ is not supported by substantial evidence because (1) the ALJ erred in giving little weight to the opinion of Luttrell's treating physician; (2) the ALJ erred in giving little weight to a portion of the state consultative medical examiner's opinion; and (3) the ALJ erred in substituting his opinion for the opinion of physicians in determining Luttrell's residual functional capacity (RFC).

Substantial evidence is "less than a preponderance but... enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the conclusion."[14] For substantial evidence to exist in this case, a reasonable mind must accept the evidence as adequate to support the ALJ's denial of benefits.[15]

Opinion of treating physician. Luttrell maintains that the ALJ erred in giving little weight to the opinion of her treating physician. This argument is not persuasive. The ALJ's decision to assign little weight to the treating physician's opinion is supported by substantial evidence. Although the opinion of a treating physician is usually granted controlling weight, "an ALJ may grant less weight... when that opinion conflicts with other substantial medical evidence contained within the record."[16]

In a physical medical source statement, the treating physician opined that Luttrell is limited by the following restrictions:

• Lifting and carrying less than ten pounds on an occasional basis
• Lifting and carrying less than ten pounds on a frequent basis
• Standing and walking three hours of an eight hour day
• Sitting for four hours of an eight hour day
• Needing the ability to change positions frequently, have frequent rest periods, have longer than normal breaks, and have the opportunity to shift ...

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