United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
ORDER REMANDING TO THE COMMISSIONER
Patsy Raney brought this action seeking judicial review of the denial of her applications for social security disability benefits. She claims disability with an alleged onset date of April 6, 2012. (R. at 100, 109). Ms. Raney based her disability claims on degenerative disk disease, depression, chronic pain in the hips and legs, and diffused broad-based disk injury. (R. at 59). After a hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) denied Ms. Raney’s claims. (R. at 68-79). The Social Security Administration’s Appeals Council declined to review the case, making the ALJ’s decision final. Ms. Raney filed this appeal and consented to the jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge.
I. The Commissioner’s Decision
At step 1 of the evaluative process, the ALJ determined that Ms. Raney had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (R. at 70). The ALJ found at step 2 that Ms. Raney had severe impairments: degenerative disc disease and hypertension. (R. at 71). The ALJ considered the listings under step 3 of the five step process and found that Ms. Raney’s impairments did not meet or equal any listing. (R. at 73).
The ALJ then found that Ms. Raney had the residual functional capacity to perform light work, but with only occasional stooping and crouching and with corrective lenses. (R. at 73). In arriving at this determination, the ALJ found that Ms. Raney’s impairments could be expected to cause her symptoms, but also that her statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms were not entirely credible. (R. at 75). The ALJ found that Ms. Raney’s daily activities were inconsistent with her alleged limitations and the objective medical evidence. (R. at 76). The ALJ gave great weight to the State agency medical consultants and little weight to Ms. Raney’s treating physician. (R. at 76-77).
With testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ found at step 4 that Ms. Raney could not perform her past relevant work, but found at step 5 that she could work as a fast food worker or cashier and was thus not disabled. (R. at 77-79).
This Court reviews the decision of the ALJ to determine if it is supported by “substantial evidence on the record as a whole.” Wilcutts v. Apfel, 143 F.3d 1134, 1136 (8th Cir. 1998). The Court will not reverse “merely because substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision.” Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8thCir. 1997) (quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)).
Ms. Raney presents several arguments for reversal. She first argues that the ALJ erred in assessing the opinion evidence. Specifically, she maintains that the ALJ erred in giving little weight to the opinion of her treating physicians, especially the opinions of John Campbell, M.D., her treating specialist, and in giving great weight to the opinions of Bill F. Payne, M.D., and Ronald Crow, D.O., State agency consultants who never examined her. Second, she argues that the ALJ erred in assessing her credibility. And third, Ms. Raney argues that the Commissioner erred in failing to review evidence she submitted after the hearing from an appointment with Dr. Campbell on October 24, 2014. Even though the appointment itself occurred after the hearing, the spinal imaging Dr. Campbell reviewed at that appointment was captured before the hearing. Ms. Raney argues that the Commissioner should have reviewed that new evidence.
A. New Evidence
Because the new evidence affects the analysis of the other medical opinions, the first question is whether this evidence should be considered. The Appeals Council must consider new and material evidence that relates to the period on or before the date of the ALJ’s decision. Bergmann v. Apfel, 207 F.3d 1065, 1069-70 (8th Cir. 2000).
To be “new, ” evidence must be more than merely cumulative of other evidence in the record. To be “material, ” the evidence must be relevant to claimant's condition for the time period for which benefits were denied. Thus, to qualify as “material, ” the additional evidence must not merely detail after-acquired conditions or post-decision deterioration of a pre-existing condition.
Ms. Raney points to her visit with Dr. Campbell on October 24, 2014, as evidence that her back condition did not improve after her surgery. During this visit, Dr. Campbell evaluated imaging of her back taken at Arkansas Methodist Medical Center in the summer, prior to the hearing. (R. at 61, 442). At the October 24, 2014 visit, Dr. Campbell assessed Ms. Raney for additional surgery based on the images captured prior to her hearing before the ALJ.
The information from the October 24, 2014 visit is not merely cumulative because it adds the professional opinion of one of Ms. Raney’s treating physicians, a specialist, to the raw information in the imaging records. The information is material, as well, in that it is an interpretation of Ms. Raney’s condition prior to the hearing before the ALJ. While the opinion was rendered more than two months after the hearing, it was based on imaging performed more than one month prior to ...