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Anderson v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

May 25, 2016

LYNN I. ANDERSON, PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         Plaintiff Lynn I. Anderson has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Both parties have submitted appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision.[1]

         The 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. Papesh v. Colvin, 786 F.3d 1126, 1131(8th Cir. 2015); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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); Phillips v. Astrue, 671 F.3d 699, 702 (8th Cir. 2012).

         Background

         Ms. Anderson alleged that she became limited in her ability to work due to pain in her wrists, incontinence, fatigue, trouble walking, depression, loose joints, migraine headaches, heartburn, hot flashes, dizziness, trouble sleeping, osteoarthritis, and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. (SSA record at 14-15, 49, 96) After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge[2] (“ALJ”) concluded that Ms. Anderson had not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any time from January 1, 2011, her alleged onset date, through January 28, 2014, the date of his decision. (Id. at 18) On June 4, 2015, the Appeals Council denied the request for a review of the ALJ’s decision, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 1-4) Ms. Anderson then filed her complaint initiating this appeal. (Docket #2)

         At the time of the hearing, Ms. Anderson was 58 years old and lived with her disabled husband and her disabled son. (SSA record at 27) She had a high school education and a couple of years of college. (Id. at 27) She had been her husband’s caregiver for the last nine years and also cared for her son. (Id. at 28)

         The ALJ’s Decision

         The ALJ found that Ms. Anderson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date and that her osteoarthritis/degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine was a “severe” impairment. She did not have an impairment or combination of impairments, however, that met or equaled a Listed Impairment. (Id. at 14-15) He judged that Ms. Anderson’s allegations regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely credible. (Id. at 16-18)

         Based on his findings, the ALJ concluded that, during the relevant time period, Ms. Anderson retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) for light work, except that she could only occasionally stoop and crouch. (Id. at 15) After hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Ms. Anderson could perform her past relevant work as a cashier II, poultry eviscerator, or fast-food worker. (Id. at 18) Thus, the ALJ concluded, Ms. Anderson was not disabled. (Id. at 19)

         Residual Functional Capacity

         Ms. Anderson maintains that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ’s decision that she was not disabled. To support her claim, Ms. Anderson relies on the report of the agency’s consulting physician. She claims the ALJ erred by rejecting the report and substituting his own lay opinion about whether she was disabled. She also challenges the evaluation of her credibility. (#12 pp. 3-9)

         A reasonable mind would accept the evidence as adequate to support the ALJ’s decision because, here, the objective medical evidence did not establish disabling symptoms. A claimant must prove disability with objective medical evidence; Ms. Anderson’s allegations are not enough. 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(5)(A). Under the applicable statute, a person’s statement about pain or other symptoms, standing alone, is not enough to establish disability; rather, there must be some medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques that show a “medical impairment that can reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other symptoms alleged” that support a conclusion that the applicant is disabled. Id.; See also 20 C.F.R. § 416.908 (“A physical or mental impairment must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, not only by your statement of symptoms.”).

         Ms. Anderson alleged numerous disabling symptoms including pain in her wrists, incontinence, fatigue, trouble walking, depression, loose joints, migraine headaches, heartburn, hot flashes, dizziness, trouble sleeping, osteoarthritis, and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; but her allegations were not supported by medical evidence. According to the record, the last time Ms. Anderson sought medical treatment was in 2008, 32 months before she stopped working. (SSA record at 245-52)

         Ms. Anderson did not seek medical treatment during the relevant time period. (Id. at 33-35) Her lack of medical treatment suggests no disabling symptoms and undermines her credibility. A reasonable mind would expect a person with disabling physical symptoms to seek some type of medical treatment. Gwathney v. Chater, 104 F.3d 1043, 1045 (8th Cir. 1997) (failing to seek medical assistance for alleged physical and mental impairments contradicted allegations of disabling conditions and supported unfavorable decision); Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 419 (8th Cir. 1996) (complaints of disabling pain and functional limitations are inconsistent with failure to take prescription pain medication or seek regular medical treatment); Rautio v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 176, 179 (8th Cir. 1988) (“A failure to seek aggressive treatment is not suggestive of disabling back pain.”).

         The only relevant medical evidence is an agency consultative exam. The examiner reported moderate to severe limitations for the body as a whole due to unstable, painful joints, chronic stress incontinence, and chronic fatigue. (Id. at 233) Agency medical experts Alice Davidson, M.D., and Stephen Whaley, M.D., observed that the limitations reported by the consultative examiner relied heavily on Ms. Anderson’s subjective complaints and ...


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