United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER
August 9, 2012 Tiffany Thomas (“Thomas”) applied
for social security disability benefits. (R. 132-143). After
conducting a hearing (R. 24-36), the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) entered a written decision denying
benefits. (R. 9-18). The Appeals Council later denied her
request for review (R. 1), thereby making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Thomas has
appealed that final decision to this Court.
reasons explained below, this Court affirms the ALJ's
The Commissioner's Decision
determined that Thomas: (1) had the severe mental impairment
of avoidant personality traits, but no severe physical
impairment; (2) had the physical residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform work at all exertional levels;
and (3) had the mental RFC to understand, remember, and carry
out simple job instructions, make judgments in simple work
situations, respond appropriately to co-workers and
supervisors (though limited to occasional incidental contact
not necessary for the job), have no contact with the general
public on the job, and respond appropriately to minor changes
in the work routine. (R. 12, 14).
Thomas had no past relevant work, the ALJ heard testimony
from a vocational expert, who opined jobs existed in the
national economy that Thomas could perform, including
positions such as warehouse worker or clean-up worker. (R.
17-18). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Thomas was not
disabled. (R. 18).
maintains that the ALJ's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence. Specifically, she contends that the ALJ
failed to fully and fairly develop the record. Thomas argues
that she has documented mental impairments that required the
ALJ to send her for another consultative examination to
establish her mental functional abilities.
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 whether it is based on
legal error. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477
(8th Cir. 2015); see also 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). While “substantial evidence” is that
which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion, “substantial evidence on the record as a
whole” requires a court to engage in a more
“[O]ur review is more than an examination of the record
for the existence of substantial evidence in support of the
Commissioner's decision; we also take into account
whatever in the record fairly detracts from that
decision.” Reversal is not warranted, however,
“merely because substantial evidence would have
supported an opposite decision.”
Reed v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005)
ALJ . . . may order consultative evaluations only if the
available evidence does not provide an adequate basis for
determining the merits of the disability claim.”
Sultan v. Barnhart, 368 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir.
2004). The “ALJ is permitted to issue a decision
without obtaining additional medical evidence so long as
other evidence in the record provides a sufficient basis for
the ALJ's decision.” Kamann v. Colvin, 721
F.3d 945, 950 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting Naber v.
Shalala, 22 F.3d 186, 189 (8th Cir. 1994)).
has not challenged the ALJ's determination of her
physical RFC. The record regarding Thomas's nonexertional
limitations provides little support for her claim that the
ALJ was obligated to order a second consultative examination
to further evaluate her mental limitations. Importantly, the
record contains no treatment history for any mental
impairments. During a consultative physical exam by a family
medicine doctor, he found no limitations in Thomas's
physical abilities but noted that he believed Thomas had a
learning disability and questioned her intelligence. (R.
257). He also questioned whether autism was a
“possibility” for Thomas. (R. 254). All of these
opinions were reached during the doctor's physical
examination of Thomas, and there is no indication he
performed any objective mental testing or what, if any,
specific training he has in devining his patients'
intelligence quotient or hazarding a guess about whether they
were autistic. Thomas relies on this subjective opinion from
a family medicine doctor who saw her one time for a
consultative physical exam to support her argument that the
ALJ was required to order a second consultative exam to
establish her mental practical abilities.
October 22, 2012, Thomas was seen for a consultative
psychological evaluation by Samuel B. Hester, Ph. D. Dr.
Hester's mental diagnostic evaluation did not find any
mental impairments, but noted that Thomas exhibited avoidant
personality traits. (R. 259-267). In an earlier initial
assessment, an independent psychological examiner noted that
Thomas seemed to exhibit “below average to average
intelligence, ” (R. 250), which was consistent with a
notation by one of her former high school teachers, who
observed problems in Thomas's ability to understand and
participate in class discussions; provide organized oral
explanations and adequate descriptions; express ideas in
written form; and apply problem solving skills. (R. 212).
the challenges noted by one of her teachers, Thomas graduated
high school with a cumulative grade point average of 2.8475
and a class rank of 14 out of 43. (R. 209). The independent
psychological examiner noted strengths in reading
comprehension, problem solving ability, and arithmetic. (R.