United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
Tommy Thorn, applied for disability benefits on March 22,
2014, alleging an onset date of January 1, 2013. (Tr. at 9).
His claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration.
Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative
Law Judge ("ALJ") denied Thorn's application.
(Tr. at 9-22). The Appeals Council denied his request for
review. (Tr. at 1). Thus, the ALJ's decision now stands
as the final decision of the Commissioner. Thorn 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 Thorn had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date of January 1, 2013.
(Tr. at 11). At Step Two of the five-step analysis,
the ALJ found that Thorn has the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and
lumbosacral spine, status post cervical spinal fusion,
history of colon resection and hernia repair, and obesity.
finding that Thorn's impairments did not meet or equal a
listed impairment (Tr. at 14), the ALJ determined that Thorn
had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform sedentary work with the following limitations: 1) he
could perform only occasional climbing, stooping, crouching,
kneeling, and crawling; 2) he could not work in unrestricted
heights, such as ladders or scaffolding 3) in an eight-hour
workday, he could sit six to eight hours, from one to two
hours without interruption; and 4) he could stand and walk no
more than two hours. (Tr. at 15). The ALJ relied on the
testimony of a vocational expert to find that, based on
Thorn's age, education, work experience and RFC, he could
perform past relevant work as a quality-control inspector.
(Tr. at 21). Based on that determination, the ALJ held that
Thorn was not disabled. Id.
Standard of Review The Court's function on review is to
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole
and whether it is based on legal error. Miller v.
Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015); see
also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). While
“substantial evidence” is that which a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion,
“substantial evidence on the record as a whole”
requires a court to engage in a more scrutinizing analysis:
“[O]ur review is more than an examination of the record
for the existence of substantial evidence in support of the
Commissioner's decision; we also take into account
whatever in the record fairly detracts from that
decision.” Reversal is not warranted, however,
“merely because substantial evidence would have
supported an opposite decision.”
Reed v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005)
Thorn's Arguments on Appeal
argues that substantial evidence does not support the
ALJ's decision to deny benefits. He contends that the ALJ
erred: (1) in relying on the opinion of Roger Troxel, M.D.;
(2) in failing to include in the RFC a sitting and overhead
reaching limitation; and (3) in his credibility analysis,
which labeled Thorn's treatment as conservative. The
Court concludes that, based on several errors committed by
the ALJ, his decision was not supported by substantial
it appears the ALJ did not properly assess Thorn's
repeatedly elevated blood pressure. The ALJ briefly reviewed
the evidence related to high blood pressure, and concluded
that the record did not establish that hypertension
significantly limited Thorn's ability to perform basic
work activities. The ALJ's review of the pertinent
evidence relating to high blood pressure was incomplete.
October 1, 2013, Thorn presented to East Arkansas Family
Health Center, Inc., because his blood pressure medication
was not working. (Tr. at 296). Thorn's blood pressure
that day was 184/110. Id. He indicated that he had
been keeping a daily log of his blood pressure and it was
consistently higher than 160/80. Id. ...