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Lemons v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

January 26, 2017

JULIA LEMONS PLAINTIF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          ORDER

         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Julia Lemons, applied for disability benefits on June 4, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of September 1, 2009. (Tr. at 12) After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied her application. (Tr. at 24) The Appeals Council denied her request for review. (Tr. at 1) The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Ms. Lemons has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court[1] affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Ms. Lemons had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of September 1, 2009. (Tr. at 15) At Step Two, the ALJ found that Ms. Lemons has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease (“DDD”) of the cervical spine, status post-fusion, and osteoporosis of the lower back with chronic pain. (Tr. at 15)

         After finding that Ms. Lemons's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 17), the ALJ determined that Ms. Lemons had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with additional limitations. Her job must require only occasional overhead reaching; she was limited to semi-skilled work, where interpersonal contact is routine, but superficial; the complexity of tasks is learned by experience, involves several variables, uses judgment within limits, and the supervision required is routine, but detailed for non-routine tasks. (Tr. at 17)

         The ALJ found that Ms. Lemons could perform her past relevant work, which directed a finding of “not disabled.” (Tr. at 22) The ALJ, however, made an alternative finding at Step Five. Id. He relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find that, based on Ms. Lemons's age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform at the light level, specifically, bench worker and machine tender. (Tr. at 22) Based on that Step Five determination, the ALJ found that Ms. Lemons was not disabled. (Tr. at 24)

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The 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)).

         B. Ms. Lemons's Argument on Appeal

         Ms. Lemons argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits because the ALJ gave inadequate consideration to the opinion of the treating physician, Rick Tate, M.D. Specifically, Ms. Lemons contends that the ALJ should have given more weight to the Medical Source Statement provided by Dr. Tate. She also argues that Dr. Tate suggested that she would require a sit/stand option, a restriction that the ALJ did not consider.

         A treating physician is a physician who provided a claimant with medical treatment or evaluation and had an ongoing treatment relationship with the claimant. 20 C.F.R. § 416.902. A treating physician's opinion should be granted controlling weight if it is supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the record. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015). An ALJ may grant less weight to a treating physician's opinion, however, when that opinion conflicts with other substantial medical evidence in the record. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1013-14 (8th Cir. 2000).

         Ms. Lemons was diagnosed with cervical spondylosis, radiculopathy, and osteoarthritis after a car wreck in 2008. (Tr. at 307-311, 322-324) A review of x-rays of her cervical spine on September 11, 2008 showed osteoarthritis with no acute fracture or loss of alignment. (Tr. at 315) Another cervical x-ray on November 12, 2008 showed moderate degenerative changes with disc dessication at ¶ 5-C6. (Tr. at 325) Ms. Lemons told Daniel Jones, M.D., on November 12, 2008 that her pain was controlled by hydrocodone. (Tr. ...


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