United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Pine Bluff Division
Edwin Jay Hesslen (“Hesslen”), in his appeal of
the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (defendant “Berryhill”) to deny
his claim for Disability Insurance benefits (DIB) and
supplemental security income (SSI), contends the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by
performing a flawed analysis of Hesslen's credibility.
The parties have ably summarized the medical records and the
testimony given at the administrative hearing conducted on
October 24, 2013. (Tr. 36-59). The Court has carefully
reviewed the record to determine whether there is substantial
evidence in the administrative record to support
Berryhill's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The
relevant period for the purposes of this lawsuit is from the
alleged onset date of June 20, 2007, through October 3, 2014,
when the ALJ issued his decision.
overview of the hearing testimony is helpful. Hesslen, who
was 29 at the hearing, has a GED and no past relevant work,
though he testified to working short stints at fast food
restaurants and with a construction company. His last work
attempt prior to the hearing was picking up trash at the
fair. He worked this job less than one week - it ended when
he missed a day due to a migraine headache. Hesslen alleges
his “severe migraines” prevent him from working.
(Tr. 44). These headaches started in 2006 or 2007,
according to Hesslen, and occur 2-3 times a week. Hesslen
stated he was taking no medications at the time of the
hearing, and stated he had no money for medical care. Hesslen
also testified to memory problems, sleep issues, ADD, ADHD,
and depression. Hesslen was incarcerated during the relevant
period, and stated that he received Elavil while in prison, a
medication which helped with his sleep issues. He testified
that a typical day for him included him looking for work.
There was no testimony of any physical deficits for Hesslen,
who weighed 300 pounds when he was examined in February 2014.
asked a vocational expert to consider a hypothetical
individual of Hesslen's age, education and work
experience who could perform work at all exertional levels,
could perform work where interpersonal contact was incidental
to the work performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and
performed by rote with few variables and little judgment, and
where the supervision required is simple, direct, and
concrete. The vocational expert testified that such a worker
could perform the jobs of industrial cleaner, hand packer,
and machine packager. (Tr. 55-56).
October 3, 2014 decision, the ALJ found Hesslen had the
following severe impairments: history of open skull fracture,
impulse control disorder, cognitive disorder, antisocial
personality disorder, and polysubstance dependence,
reportedly in sustained remission. The ALJ held Hesslen's
statements about the limiting effects of his symptoms were
“not entirely credible for the reasons explained in
this decision.” (Tr. 18). He also found Hesslen's
residual functional capacity (RFC) precisely mirrored the
limitations contained in the first hypothetical question
posed at the hearing. Relying upon the testimony of the
vocational expert, the ALJ found Hesslen could perform work
that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
Therefore, the ALJ concluded Hesslen was not disabled. (Tr.
analysis: The ALJ, citing SSR 96-7p,  discounted
Hesslen's credibility, citing the objective medical
findings, the failure of Hesslen to seek treatment, the
failure to comply with recommended treatment by two different
physicians, and the absence of complaints of headaches while
incarcerated in the Arkansas Department of Correction
(“ADC”). (Tr. 18-20). Elsewhere in his decision,
the ALJ found Hesslen had only mild restrictions in
activities of daily living. (Tr. 16). Hesslen contends the
credibility analysis is flawed, arguing the ALJ failed to
take into account Hesslen's lack of resources. We find no
merit in this argument.
primary allegation of disability is Hesslen's claim of
frequent, severe migraine headaches throughout the seven year
relevant period. Such a serious alleged condition would
typically compel a claimant to seek treatment by any
conventional means. Here, however, Hesslen sought and
obtained treatment once during the relevant
period. Failure to seek treatment may reflect on
the seriousness of the medical problem. Shannon v.
Chater, 54 F.3d 484 (8th Cir. 1995). In
addition. Hesslen's claim of limited resources is not
coupled with any evidence of record that he sought low cost
or free medical care. See, e.g., Tate v. Apfel, 167
F.3d 1191 (8th Cir. 1999) and Murphy v.
Sullivan, 953 F.2d 383 (8th Cir. 1992).
Finally, during the roughly two months that Hesslen was in
the ADC and under its medical care he did not complain of
migraine headaches and was not prescribed medication for
them. (Tr. 437-457).
regard to the medical evidence, the ALJ thoroughly discussed
the medical treatment, including the results of a
consultative examination ordered by the ALJ. The consultative
examination, performed by neuropsychologist Dr. Patricia Walz
(“Walz”), is the most informative medical record
during the relevant period. Walz evaluated Hesslen in
September 2014, finding him to have low average range IQ,
dysthymia, polysubstance dependence reportedly in remission,
antisocial personality disorder, and a GAF of 60 to 65. Walz
reported Hesslen could drive, his social skills were fair,
his speech was clear and intelligible, his attention and
concentration were fair, he persisted well, and his speed of
information processing was a bit slow. (Tr. 379-384). The ALJ
assigned “great weight” to Walz's opinions.
The ALJ did not err in assessing Walz's findings,
primarily because there is no medical evidence which detract
from her conclusions.
Hesslen would have the ALJ conclude he cannot keep a job
because he cannot “catch on and keep the pace, ”
the ALJ is not obliged to accept Hesslen's statement at
face value. The credibility analysis rightly focused on the
findings in the medical records, the absence of treatment,
the failure to comply with follow up when treatment was
ongoing, and Hesslen's daily activities. The ALJ need not
discuss each factor enumerated in Polaski, but
should utilize the framework and emphasize the most
influential factors based upon the facts before him. This
case is an example of the ALJ fairly weighing the relevant
factors. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
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 Hesslen's complaint is dismissed with
Hesslen states the onset of his
headaches coincided with a traumatic brain injury, which
occurred in July ...