United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Northern Division
Tammy Sparks (“Sparks”), in her appeal of the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (defendant “Berryhill”) to deny
her claim for Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI),
contends the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred in the
following ways: (1) relying upon the vocational expert's
testimony; (2) performing an inadequate analysis of her
credibility; and (3) failing to develop the record.
parties have ably summarized the medical records and the
testimony given at the administrative hearings conducted on
April 21, 2011, and on July 22, 2015. (Tr. 25-54, 671-688). A
second administrative hearing was conducted because this
Court remanded the case in August 2014. (Tr. 697-703).
Specifically, the Court found the ALJ erred in failing to
resolve a conflict between the vocational expert's
testimony and the information contained in the Dictionary
of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) and its
companion publication, the Selected Characteristics of
Occupations (“SCO”). In his initial
decision, the ALJ found Sparks had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with
limitations, including the limitation of reaching overhead
occasionally. Citing the vocational expert's testimony,
the ALJ found Sparks could perform the jobs of cashier and
retail marker. Both of these jobs involve frequent reaching,
according to the DOT. The Court found there was a possible
conflict in the vocational expert's testimony and the
DOT, and remanded the case with instructions for the ALJ to
“resolve the possible conflict between the VE's
testimony and the DOT's listings that required frequent
reaching. The ALJ's decision must explain how any
conflict between the VE's testimony and the DOT job
description was resolved.” (Tr. 703). The Court has
carefully reviewed the record to determine whether there is
substantial evidence in the administrative record to support
the ALJ's decision following the second administrative
hearing. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Upon the Vocational Expert's Testimony: In
the decision issued following the second administrative
hearing, the ALJ found Sparks had the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine
and right shoulder, migraine headaches, asthma, and obesity.
The ALJ also found Sparks had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with
numerous limitations, including occasionally reaching
overhead and avoiding concentrated heat or cold. Relying upon
the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ determined
Sparks could perform the jobs of marking clerk and small
parts packer. The ALJ stressed that both of these jobs
“do include the overhead reaching limitation of
‘occasional' as defined and used” in the DOT.
does not quarrel with the overhead reaching requirement,
which formed the basis for remanding the case for further
proceedings. Instead, Sparks contends there is
“unresolved ambiguity” in the ALJ's decision
because the jobs identified by the vocational expert did not
clearly indicate if the worker would be exposed to
concentrated cold. There is no merit to this assertion.
hypothetical question to the vocational expert clearly
included a limitation against “concentrated . . .
cold.” (Tr. 684). In response, the vocational expert
testified the hypothetical worker could perform the jobs of
marking clerk and small parts packer, and stated, “With
these positions, your honor, generally, the environment is
relatively cold. They don't have the extremes [INAUDIBLE]
chemical components used such as that.” (Tr. 685).
Although Sparks argues that “relative cold could be
concentrated cold, ” the plain answer is that the
vocational expert's testimony is at odds with such an
argument. Docket entry no. 11, page 16. The vocational expert
testified that the cited jobs did not expose the worker to
concentrated cold. There is no ambiguity, and no merit to
Sparks' credibility was discounted in both decisions
issued by the ALJ. This Court found the credibility analysis
following the first hearing supported by the record as a
whole. Specifically, this Court noted the ALJ considered the
entire record, examining the relevant factors from
Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th
Cir. 1984), and cited inconsistencies in the record to
support his findings. (Tr. 700-701).
the second administrative hearing, the ALJ again found
Sparks' subjective complaints “not credible to the
extent they are inconsistent” with the RFC evaluation.
(Tr. 660). Citing Polaski, the ALJ noted the
objective medical findings were not consistent with the level
of pain described by Sparks. He also noted the absence of
physician-imposed limitations commensurate with Sparks'
description of her abilities. The ALJ further found
Sparks' daily activities, including her ability to drive
three hours each way to receive medical care, evidence that
she is more capable than her testimony suggests. Finally, the
ALJ cited Sparks' failure to seek aggressive medical
treatment, her poor work history, the absence of side effects
from medications, and her continuation of her smoking habit
despite medical advice to quit as factors detracting from her
quarrels with some of the factors enumerated by the ALJ. For
example, Sparks contends the ALJ unreasonably relied on her
ability to do daily activities, understated her efforts to
obtain treatment, and overstated the efficacy of her
medications. While Sparks is correct that she took narcotic
medications and sought treatment on many occasions, these
points do not overcome the totality of the factors considered
by the ALJ. The ALJ took into account many of the
Polaski factors, all of which were valid
considerations reflecting upon Sparks' credibility.
Deference is typically given to an ALJ's credibility
determination if the ALJ explicitly discounts the
claimant's testimony, giving good reasons for doing so.
See, e.g., Boyd v. Colvin, 831 F.3d 1015, 1021
(8th Cir. 2016). That is the case here. There is
no merit to this claim.
to develop the record. Sparks urges the record
was inadequate because there was no opinion from a treating
or examining doctor regarding her work-related limitations.
However, such an opinion is not a prerequisite to the ALJ
determining a claimant's RFC. The RFC 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). Thus, the key question is whether the record provided
an adequate basis upon which an ALJ could determine
Sparks' RFC. Here, the record was more than adequate,
containing ample medical records for the ALJ to consider.
There was no error in the ALJ choosing to rule when the
record before him was sufficient and he was able to make an
informed decision. There is no merit in this claim.
summary, we find the ultimate decision of Berryhill 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 Berryhill is
affirmed and Sparks' complaint is dismissed with