United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
JOHN THOMPSON NIX, JR. PLAINTIFF
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
ORDER REMANDING TO THE COMMISSIONER
Nix (“Nix”) applied for social security
disability benefits with an alleged onset date of September
17, 2012. (R. at 56). His applications were denied by the
administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and the Appeals
Council denied review. (R. at 1). The ALJ's decision
stands as the Commissioner's final decision, and Nix has
requested judicial review.
reasons stated below, this Court reverses and remands the
The Commissioner's Decision
found that Nix had the severe impairments of status post
right total knee arthroplasty, COPD, osteoarthritis, left eye
blindness, and obesity. (R. at 17). The ALJ then determined
that Nix's impairments left him with the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary
work except that he could not perform work requiring
excellent bilateral vision; could only occasionally climb
ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, and crawl; could
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds or kneel; must avoid
unprotected heights, hazards, and concentrated exposure to
fumes, odors, and gases. (R. at 18). The ALJ took testimony
from an vocational expert (“VE”) and determined
that the RFC precluded Nix's past relevant work. (R. at
22). The VE testified that the RFC would allow work in jobs
such as telephone sales and dispatcher, and the ALJ therefore
held that Nix was not disabled. (R. at 22-23).
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).
argues that the ALJ's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole because the ALJ
improperly weighed the opinions of Nix's treating
physician and failed to properly incorporate the limitations
from those opinions.
gave great weight to a November 2013 opinion by Dr. Jason
Brandt, Nix's treating physician, but gave little weight
to a December 2013 opinion by the same doctor. (R. at 21).
Nix notes that, in weighing the November 2013 opinion, the
ALJ stated that the “opinion is given great weight as
it is consistent with the claimant's ability to perform
work at the sedentary level with additional limitations due
to his decreased range of motion.” (R. at 21). As Nix
observes, this reasoning is backwards. An ALJ must give good
reasons for the weight given to an opinion. Cline v.
Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1103 (8th Cir. 2014). In this
instance, the ALJ seems to have come to a conclusion before
assigning weight to the evidence, and such reasons are not
good reasons. As Nix also notes, the November 2013 and
December 2013 opinions have no appreciable differences
between them (R. at 419-21, 435-36). The differences between
the opinions owe more to the different formats of the opinion
forms rather than to any substantive difference.
also notes that the ALJ, in weighing the December 2013
opinion, stated that Nix “testified that he was able to
drive, shop for groceries and help his disabled
girlfriend.” (R. at 22). Nix argues that the actual
testimony was that his girlfriend and teenage daughter assist
him with household chores and that he can sit on a chair to
prepare meals and set clothes on a chair in order to load
them into a washing machine. (R. at 38-39, 42-43). The
ALJ's characterization of Nix's testimony is
inaccurate, and such a characterization does not support the
ALJ's decision. The ALJ's reasons for weighing the
opinions of Nix's treating physician are inadequate, and
the decision is therefore not supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole.
not the task of this Court to review the evidence and make an
independent decision. Neither is it to reverse the decision
of the ALJ because there is evidence in the record which
contradicts his findings. The test is whether there is
substantial evidence in the record as a whole which supports
the decision of the ALJ. Miller, 784 F.3d at 477.
The Court has reviewed the entire record, including the
briefs, the ALJ's decision, and the transcript of the
hearing. The Court concludes that the record as a whole does
not contain ample evidence that "a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support [the] conclusion" of the
ALJ in this case. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971). The ALJ's decision is therefore REVERSED
and REMANDED, with instructions to further develop the record
as necessary and to perform a proper evaluation of the
treating physician opinions.