United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
Doris Thomas (“Thomas”), in her appeal of the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (defendant “Colvin”) to deny her
claim for Disability Insurance benefits (DIB), contends the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in finding
she could perform her past relevant work, and in failing to
fully and fairly develop the record. The parties have ably
summarized the medical records and the testimony given at the
administrative hearing conducted on August 20, 2014. (Tr.
36-56). The Court has carefully reviewed the record to
determine whether there is substantial evidence in the
administrative record to support Colvin's decision. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
is a key feature in this case. Thomas protectively filed for
DIB on September 16, 2013, alleging disability since June 30,
2007. Since her insured status expired on December 31, 2012,
her burden was to demonstrate she was disabled between June
30, 2007, and December 31, 2012. The ALJ stressed this fact
at the administrative hearing and in his written decision.
primary argument for reversal is the ALJ erred in finding she
could perform her past relevant work as a hand packager and
hospital housekeeper. Since the ALJ relied heavily on the
scarcity of medical evidence, we briefly recount the medical
records during the relevant time period:
Thomas seen by treating physician Osborne. Thomas
complained of arthritis in fingers and noted she
could not afford previously prescribed medicine
(Mobic). Osborne recorded that Thomas did not show
for last appointment, and also informed Thomas of $4
plan at Wal-Mart to obtain Mobic. Osborne noted
nodules on the first finger of left hand and second
finger of right hand. Thomas was previously last seen
by Osborne in May of 2007. (Tr. 279-283).
Thomas seen by Osborne for follow up on blood
pressure. (Tr. 276-278).
Thomas seen by Osborne, complaining of not having her
menstrual period for three months. (Tr. 273-275).
Thomas seen by Osborne for possible spider bite.
Thomas seen by Osborne for check-up. Osborne's
records reflect Thomas stated she “has been
doing good” although her blood pressure
“runs a little high.” (Tr. 267-269).
Thomas seen by Osborne for yearly examination.
Records show Thomas was doing fine on her
prescriptions with no new complaints. (Tr. 233-236).
Thomas seen by Osborne for ear pain. (Tr. 229-232).
Thomas presents to Wagner Medical Clinic to establish
care. Per her history, Thomas complained of elevated
blood pressure, increased pain in her hands from
osteoarthritis, and pain in the arch of her left
foot. (Tr. 362-365). Dr. Wagner noted no clubbing,
cyanosis or edema on Thomas' extremities. (Tr.
Thomas seen for follow up with Dr. Wagner, who again
noted no cyanosis, clubbing or edema of the
extremities. Dr. Wagner assessed her existing problem
of hypertension as unchanged, and noted new problems
of abnormal mammogram, diabetes mellitus -
borderline, and hypothyroidism. (Tr. 349-350).
Thomas, seen for follow up with Dr. Wagner, also
complained of right shoulder pain, radiating down her
arm and shoulder. Dr. Wagner recorded that Thomas was
already taking Mobic. (Tr. 346-348).
Thomas seen by Dr. Wagner for follow up on thyroid
issues and for a skin tag on her right eye. (Tr.
Thomas seen by Dr. Wagner for removal of skin tag and
reevaluation of thyroid levels. (Tr. 331-333).
Thomas' testimony concerned her impairments after
December 31, 2012. Also, many of the medical records pertain
to treatment after the expiration of her insured status. The
ALJ cited medical records (Exhibits 2F, 7F, 8F, and 9F) after
December 31, 2012, noting that he could not consider these
reports in reaching his decision. (Tr. 30). Thomas did
explain that her biggest problem was hand and back pain, that
she had that impairment in 2012, and her condition had slowly
worsened. (Tr. 45-48).
to Perform Past Relevant Work: The ALJ concluded
Thomas capable of performing her past relevant jobs as a hand
packager or hotel housekeeper, both of which were unskilled
jobs performed at the medium exertional level. Thomas argues
that it was inconsistent for the ALJ to find her
osteoarthritis was a severe impairment but that she could
nonetheless perform the full range of medium work. This
argument is without merit. An ALJ's finding of a severe
impairment at step two does not automatically limit the
claimant to less than medium work. Instead, the ALJ is tasked
with determining a claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), which is a consideration of a
claimant's ability to perform work despite her
limitations, both severe and non- severe. Here, the ALJ found
Thomas capable of performing the full range of medium work,
despite her impairments. The key inquiry, then, is not the
existence of a severe impairment but whether the RFC
determination is supported by substantial evidence.
need not mirror the findings of any one physician, as the ALJ
is not bound to choose any one physician and adopt his/her
findings as the appropriate RFC. Instead, it “is the
ALJ's responsibility to determine a claimant's RFC
based on all relevant evidence, including medical records,
observations of treating physicians and others, and
claimant's own descriptions of his limitations.”
Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217
(8th Cir. 2001). Here, the ALJ found Thomas
capable of performing medium work. Given the paucity of
medical evidence and the thorough analysis performed by the
ALJ, we find substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC
contends the ALJ should have found the lack of medical
evidence was due to her lack of financial resources. The flaw
with this argument is that although the medical records show
some financial issues were present (e.g., Thomas' need
for and provision of inexpensive medications) there is no
showing that her means prevented her from seeking or
obtaining care. She was able to see Drs. Osborne and Wagner
numerous times during the relevant time period. Typically,
she saw these doctors for ailments other than her allegedly
disabling osteoarthritis. There is no merit to Thomas'
claim of error in the ALJ's treatment of her financial
Thomas urges the ALJ should have more fully developed the
record. It is undisputed that the ALJ has a duty to fully and
fairly develop the record, even when the plaintiff is
represented by counsel. Thomas had counsel at the
administrative hearing, and is represented by counsel in this
case. Specifically, Thomas contends the ALJ should have
contacted doctors who treated her prior to December 2012 or
the ALJ should have sent Thomas for a consultative
examination. There is no merit to either of these
contentions. The medical records of Drs. Osborne and Wagner
during the relevant period are thorough. To request an
opinion years after treatment would add little to the record.
Further, a consultative examination several years after the
expiration of the insured status would shed little light on
Thomas' condition prior to December 31, 2012.
is no error in the ALJ's reliance upon the record before
him. The objective medical evidence in this case was adequate
and the ALJ's decision was well-informed. Under these
circumstances, we find no error in the ALJ's reliance
upon the record before him, and on his decision not to seek
further evidence on other issues.
summary, we find the ultimate decision of Colvin was
supported by substantial evidence. We are mindful that the
Court's task is not to review the record and arrive at an
independent decision, nor is it to reverse if we find some
evidence to support a different conclusion. The test is
whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.
See, e.g., Byes v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 913, 915
(8th Cir. 2012). This test is satisfied in this
THEREFORE ORDERED that the final decision of Colvin is
affirmed and Thomas' complaint is dismissed with