United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
Malory Jones, applied for disability benefits on January 23,
2014, alleging a disability onset date of January 20, 2014.
(Tr. at 87). After conducting a hearing, the Administrative
Law Judge (AALJ") denied his application. (Tr. at 96).
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 Jones has requested judicial review.
reasons stated below, the Court reverses the ALJ's decision
and remands for further review.
The Commissioner's Decision:
found that Jones had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date of January 20, 2014.
(Tr. at 89). The ALJ found, at Step Two of the sequential
five-step analysis, that Jones had the following severe
impairments: status-post laminectomy with ongoing lumbar
spondylosis, obesity, and osteoarthritis. Id.
Three, the ALJ determined that Jones's impairments did
not meet or equal a listed impairment. (Tr. at 91).
Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that Jones
had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to
perform sedentary work except that he can lift and carry 10
pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; can
stand and/or walk in 30-minute intervals for two hours in an
eight-hour workday; can sit in 30-minute intervals for six
hours in an eight-hour workday; can push and/or pull 10
pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; and
should avoid stooping when in a standing position.
Id. Next, the ALJ found that Jones was unable to
perform any past relevant work. (Tr. at 94). Finally, the ALJ
relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert
("VE") to find that, based on Jones's age,
education, work experience and RFC, Jones was capable of
performing work in the national economy. (Tr. at 95). Based
on that determination, the ALJ held that Jones was not
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)).
Jones's Arguments on Appeal
argues that substantial evidence does not support the
ALJ's decision to deny benefits. He contends that the ALJ
afforded improper weight to the opinions of Jones's
treating physician, Dr. Terry Lichtor, M.D., and that the ALJ
erred in his credibility analysis. For the following reasons,
the Court finds that the ALJ's decision is not supported
by substantial evidence, and therefore, remand is proper.
had back problems that required three surgeries. Dr. Lichtor
evaluated Jones on October 4, 2011 and found that he walked
with a limp and had some pain on straight-leg raising. (Tr.
at 394-398). An MRI indicated a small herniated disc at the
L4-L5 level. Id. Dr. Lichtor performed a
microdiscectomy on October 19, 2011. Id. The back
pain seemed to improve but by March 2012 Jones was reporting
increased pain. (Tr. at 472-474).
saw a rheumatologist for numbness and shooting pain in
October 2013. (Tr. at 452-455). He said that the surgery did
not fix his back pain and that medications were not helping.
Id. In January 2014 Jones complained of
“scalding, burning pain in his lower right leg and
foot.” (Tr. at 447-450). Dr. Andrea Read, D.O.,
referred him to a neurosurgeon.
Lichtor found on January 23, 2014 that Jones walked with a
limp and showed mild to moderate weakness of dorsiflexion and
plantarflexion on the right side with diminished pinprick
sensation. (Tr. at 388). A lumbar MRI showed a large
recurrent herniated disc at ¶ 4-5 on the right with
severe compression of the right L5 nerve root. (Tr. at 388,
426). An MRI of the thoracic spine showed extensive
degenerative changes. (Tr. at 429). Dr. Lichtor recommended a
second surgery but noted that results may be guarded due to
the past surgery in the same place. (Tr. at 388). On March
21, 2014, Dr. Lichtor performed ...