United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED INSTRUCTIONS
VOLPE, Magistrate Judge.
recommended disposition has been submitted to United States
District Judge James M. Moody, Jr. The parties may file
specific objections to these findings and recommendations and
must provide the factual or legal basis for each objection.
The objections must be filed with the Clerk no later than
fourteen (14) days from the date of the findings and
recommendations. A copy must be served on the opposing party.
The District Judge, even in the absence of objections, may
reject these proposed findings and recommendations in whole
or in part.
Michael Higgins, has appealed the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration to deny
his claim for disability insurance benefits. Both parties
have submitted briefs and the case is ready for a decision.
court's function on review is to determine whether the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole and free of legal error.
Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir.
2009); Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir.
1997); see also 42 U.S.C. Â§Â§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
(1971); Reynolds v. Chater, 82 F.3d 254, 257 (8th
assessing the substantiality of the evidence, courts must
consider evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's
decision as well as evidence that supports it; a court may
not, however, reverse the Commissioner's decision merely
because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite
decision. Sultan v. Barnhart, 368 F.3d 857, 863 (8th
Cir. 2004); Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th
Cir. 1993). After careful review of the pleadings and
evidence in this case, I find the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence and recommend the
Complaint be DISMISSED.
was fifty-four years old at the time of the administrative
hearing. (Tr. 33) He earned a bachelor of science degree in
emergency management. ( Id. ) He has a strong work
history and has past relevant work as a security supervisor,
security manager, safety manager, human resource and benefits
manager, and as a director information management. (Tr.
alleges he is disabled due to a back impairment. (Tr. 33) The
ALJ found Mr. Higgins had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 24, 2013, the alleged
onset date. (Tr. 11) He has a "severe" impairment
in the form of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
status post fusion at L4-5 with chronic low back pain. (
Id. ) The ALJ further found Mr. Higgins did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or
equaling an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Â§ 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (Tr. 13)
determined Mr. Higgins had the residual functional capacity
to perform a reduced range of light work. ( Id. )
With the aid of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Mr.
Higgins could perform his past work. (Doc. No. 17-18)
Accordingly, the ALJ determined Mr. Higgins was not disabled.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review
of the ALJ's decision, making his decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3) Plaintiff filed the
instant Complaint initiating this appeal. (Doc. No. 1)
support of his Complaint, Plaintiff raises several arguments.
He believes the ALJ failed to develop the record by not
requesting additional information from Plaintiff's
surgeon and by not ordering additional consultative
examinations to assess his physical limitations. (Doc. No. 7)
Plaintiff also argues the ALJ failed to properly consider the
evidence, erred with his credibility analysis, failed to give
proper weight to his treating doctor, and incorrectly
determined he has the residual functional capacity to perform
a reduced range of light work. ( Id. )
bears a heavy burden in showing the record has been
inadequately developed. He must show both a failure to
develop necessary evidence and unfairness or prejudice from
that failure. Combs v. Astrue, 243 Fed.Appx. 200,
204 (8th Cir. 2007). Plaintiff has shown neither. The ALJ is
permitted to issue a decision without obtaining additional
evidence as long as the record is sufficient to make an
informed decision. E.g., Haley v.
Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 749 (8th Cir. 2001);
Anderson v. Shalala, 51 F.3d 777, 779 (8th Cir.
1995). In this case, while Plaintiff's doctors were in
disagreement, the record was sufficient upon which to make an
is the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which 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 12 months." 42 U.S.C. Â§
1382(a)(3)(A). A "physical or mental impairment' is
an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or
psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques." 42 U.S.C. Â§ 1382c(a)(3)(D).
crux of this case is whether the ALJ properly relied on the
medical evidence from B. Christopher Myer, M.D.,
Plaintiff's surgeon, over the report of his treating
doctor, Andrew Monfee, M.D. Drs. Myer and Monfee both
completed physical residual functional capacity
questionnaires. Dr. Monfee concluded that Plaintiff was very
limited and, essentially, disabled. (Tr. 227-232) Dr. Myer,
however, concluded Plaintiff was capable of performing light
work activities. (Tr. 264-69) The ALJ gave some weight to
both physicians, but clearly concluded Dr. Myer's opinion
was more heavily supported by the evidence of record. The ALJ
was specifically referring to Dr. Myer's notes when he
stated Plaintiff had reported "walking five miles per
day so the limitations on walking are not supported by the
record." (Tr. 16, 213) The ALJ also noted that
Plaintiff's back surgery appeared to be successful and
his prognosis was good. ( Id. ) Dr. Myer's
treatment notes reveal he did not believe Mr. Higgins was
disabled. However, he reported "Mr. Higgins informed us
that he wishes to apply for disability, as he feels he is not
able to do much of the therapy that he would like. At the end
of the day he feels too tired and sore to go to the
gym." (Tr. 212) Dr. Myer encouraged Plaintiff to
continue with a walking program but noted, "Mr. Higgins
has a strong ...