United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
JAMES J. PHELPS PLAINTIFF
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION DEFENDANT
James J. Phelps, applied for disability benefits on November
6, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of August 15, 2012.
(Tr. at 10). After conducting a hearing, the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied his application. (Tr. at
19). The Appeals Council denied his request for review. (Tr.
at 1). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner, and Phelps has requested
reasons stated below, the Court affirms the decision of the
The Commissioner's Decision:
found that Phelps had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the onset date of August 15, 2012. (Tr. at
12). The ALJ found at Step Two that Phelps had the following
severe impairments: osteoarthristis, degenerative disc
disease, asthma, headaches, and obesity. Id. At Step
Three, the ALJ determined that Phelps's impairments did
not meet or equal a listed impairment. (Tr. at 14). Before
proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that Phelps had
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform the sedentary work with the following restrictions:
1) only occasional climbing of stairs, balancing, stooping,
kneeling, crouching, and crawling; 2) no climbing of ladders;
3) occasional overhead reaching; 4) must avoid concentrated
exposure to dust, fumes, gases, odors, smoke, and poor
ventilation; and 5) cannot work without the use of a cane.
Id. Next, the ALJ found that Phelps is not capable
of performing past relevant work. (Tr. at 17). At Step Five,
the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert
("VE") to find that, based on Phelps's age,
education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that he could
perform at the sedentary level, specifically, dispatcher and
cashier I. (Tr. at 19). Based on that Step Five
determination, the ALJ held that Phelps was not disabled.
Standard of Review
Court's role is to determine whether the
Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial
evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th
Cir. 2000). “Substantial evidence” in this
context means less than a preponderance but more than a
scintilla. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th
Cir. 2009). In other words, it is “enough that a
reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the
ALJ's decision.” Id. (citation omitted).
The Court must consider not only evidence that supports the
Commissioner's decision, but also evidence that supports
a contrary outcome. The Court cannot reverse the decision,
however, “merely because substantial evidence exists
for the opposite decision.” Long v. Chater,
108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting Johnson v.
Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)).
Phelps's Arguments on Appeal
argues that substantial evidence does not support the
ALJ's decision to deny benefits. He contends that: 1)
Phelps met listings 1.02 and 1.04; 2) the ALJ erred in
assigning Phelps's RFC; and 3) the ALJ did not pose a
proper hypothetical to the VE. For the following reasons, the
Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
had two surgeries in 2010 to repair his left knee, including
a total left knee replacement on September 15, 2010. (Tr. at
321-322, 324). At a September 28, 2010 follow-up appointment
with Dr. Ron Schechter, M.D., an orthopedist at Paragould
Orthopaedics, Dr. Schechter reported that Phelps was
“doing fine” post-surgery and that he was making
adequate progress with physical therapy on the knee. (Tr. at
307). On October 26, 2010, Phelps reported to Dr. Schechter
that he was “doing better” with little to no
pain, and that he was “very pleased with [the] results
of surgery.” (Tr. at 305). He was walking well, with no
limp. Id. Dr. Schechter noted that Phelps could
return to full duty work when he was ready. Id.
Phelps returned to work as a welder until August 2012 (Tr. at
testified that he has had multiple steroid injections in both
knees, with little efficacy. (Tr. at 43). He added that he
walks with a cane. Id. Phelps stated that Dr. Stacy
Noel, M.D., his PCP, told him to keep his legs elevated to
minimize swelling. Id. In April 2013, x-rays of
Phelps's right knee and left hip were unremarkable. (Tr.
24, 2011, Phelps saw Dr. Tory Stallcup, M.D., at Family
Practice Clinic of Paragould. (Tr. at 448). He reported that
his depression was better, but that he had some
“minor” issues, including anxiety and panic
attacks that were increasing. Id. Dr. Stallcup
prescribed buspirone for anxiety and clonazepam for sleep.
I d . He recommended that Phelps seek counseling.
Id. Phelps did not seek counseling.
13, 2012, Phelps saw Dr. Noel for anxiety, after he had
apparently stopped taking his clonazepam. (Tr. at 427). Dr.
Noel started him back on Lexapro and clonazepam, and he
continued taking buspirone. Id. Phelps denied
suicidal or homicidal thoughts, and said he was
“resting well.” (Tr. at 428). On ...