United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
JOHN L. HANSON PLAINTIFF
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, SSA DEFENDANT
OPINION & ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS JUDGE.
before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R
& R") (Doc. 13) of the Honorable Erin L. Setser,
United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of
Arkansas, regarding Plaintiff John L. Hanson's request
for judicial review of Defendant's decision to deny his
claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income under the provisions of Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act. The R & R advises the Court to
affirm the ALJ's denial of Hanson's claim, and to
dismiss the case with prejudice. After conducting a de
novo review, the Court agrees. The R & R is ADOPTED
in full, and the case is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
facts and legal standards pertinent to this case are detailed
at length in the R & R, and will only be summarized for
context herein. Plaintiff John T. Hanson suffers from a
myriad of back Issues, hypertension, and obesity. On December
4, 2013, ALJ Jonathan P. Blucher held a hearing on
Hanson's claim, and on March 17, 2014, he entered a
decision denying the claim. Hanson timely appealed to this
Court on July 2, 2015, arguing that the ALJ erred by: (i)
finding that Hanson's impairments do not medically equal
the severity of Listing 1.04; (ii) incorrectly assessing
Hanson's residual functional capacity ("RFC");
and (iii) concluding that Hanson can perform his past
relevant work. See Doc. 9. Magistrate Judge Setser
issued her R & R on April 6, 2016, which disagrees with
each of Hanson's contentions. On April 25, 2016, Hanson
filed Objections to the R & R (Doc. 14), Identifying the
same three Issues he raised In response to the ALJ's
reviewing the decision of the ALJ, the Court must determine
whether substantial evidence In the administrative record
supports the decision, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
"Substantial evidence Is relevant evidence that a
reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support the
Commissioner's conclusion." Young v. Apfel,
221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000). Such evidence Is
"less than a preponderance but enough so that a
reasonable mind could find It adequate to support the
decision." Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964,
966 (8th Cir. 2003). As long as there is substantial evidence
in the record that supports the Commissioner's decision,
the Court may not reverse it simply because substantial
evidence exists In the record that could have supported a
contrary outcome, or because the Court could have decided the
case differently. See Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d
742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). In other words, "[i]f after
reviewing the record, the court finds it Is possible to draw
two Inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those
positions represents the ALJ's findings, the court must
affirm the ALJ's decision." Goff v.
Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 789 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing
Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir.
Court begins with Hanson's objection regarding Listing
1.04. At step three of the familiar five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether an individual is
disabled, see 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(a), the ALJ must
determine whether the claimant has "an impairment(s)
that meets or equals one of [the SSA's] listings in
appendix 1 . . . ." Id. at (a)(4)(iii). The
listings identify impairments considered "severe enough
to prevent an individual from doing any gainful activity . .
. ." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525(a). Listing 1.04 pertains
specifically to disorders of the spine. See 20
C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, App'x I, Reg. No. 4.
evidence in the administrative record supports the ALJ's
finding that Hanson's impairments do not meet or equal
Listing 1.04. Certainly, Hanson is correct that some
evidence in the record supports a positive finding-as the ALJ
noted-but substantial evidence points the other way as well.
The ALJ noted, for example, that during some of his
examinations, Hanson demonstrated normal gait, motor
strength, joint stability, and muscle tone. (Doc. 15, p. 15).
And, in Hanson's "most recent orthopedist visit,
" his examination was essentially normal by all relevant
metrics. Id. At best, "it is possible to draw
two inconsistent positions from the evidence, " one of
which supports the ALJ's position. Goff, 421
F.3d at 790. Reversing the ALJ would therefore be error on
this Court's part.
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC
determination, including his credibility analysis. As an
initial matter, Hanson objects to the ALJ's finding that
his "statements concerning the intensity, persistence
and limiting effects of [his] symptoms are not entirely
credible . . . ." (Doc. 14, p. 3); (Doc. 15, p. 18). The
ALJ reached this conclusion based mainly on Hanson's
inconsistent use of a cane and often normal medical
examinations. (Doc. 15, p. 18). Keeping the principle that
"credibility is primarily a matter for the ALJ to
decide" in mind, the Court does not take issue with the
ALJ's credibility analysis. Edwards, 314 F.3d at
Court also cannot reverse the ALJ's RFC determination.
"Your residual functional capacity is the most you can
still do despite your limitations." 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545 (a)(1). An ALJ must assess a claimant's RFC
"based on all the relevant evidence in [his] case
record." Id. ALJ Blucher found that Hanson had
the RFC to "lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently; and stand/walk 4 hours and sit 6 hours in an
8-hour workday, " with certain other limitations. (Doc.
15, p. 16). Hanson argues that in reaching this decision, the
ALJ "failed to develop the record[, ] failed to give
meaningful consider [sic] all of Mr. Hanson's combined
impairments . . . [and] cherry-picked findings from the
record." (Doc. 14, p. 3).
Court disagrees. The RFC determination in the ALJ's
written decision spans four pages, details the medical
evidence in the case, and factors Hanson's back ailments,
obesity, and hypertension. (Doc. 15, pp. 16-19). It includes
substantial evidence to support ALJ Blucher's conclusion.
For example, Hanson "exhibited negative straight leg and
he maintained 5/5 strength, with intact sensation" in
August, 2013. Id. at 19. During that same time, he
had no "radiographic hardware complications."
Id. More recently, he again exhibited "negative
straight leg raise, " "full range of motion
throughout the lumbar spine, " and "5/5 motor
strength." And, notably, "[Hanson] worked as a
chaplain/grief counselor for several months in 2013" and
"described this work as involving walking and attending
functions for grieving patients." Id. at 19-20.
While there is other evidence that may point to the opposite
conclusion, the Court, again, cannot second guess the
ALJ's substantially supported conclusion just because a
contrary conclusion is possible. See Haley, 258 F.3d
the ALJ did not err in finding that Hanson's RFC allows
him to perform his past relevant work. Hanson has past
relevant work as a minister, social worker, and court
administrator. At the December 4, 2013 hearing, the
vocational expert classified these vocations as light work,
light work, and sedentary work, respectively. See
Doc. 15, p. 57. Given the medical evidence in the record, the
ALJ's credibility determination, and Hanson's work as
a chaplain during his disability period, the ALJ's
conclusion that Hanson's RFC allowed him to perform these
occupations is supported by substantial evidence.
Hanson's various objections to this finding are without
reasons stated herein, the R & R (Doc. 13) is ADOPTED and
the case is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. ...