United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Karen Denise Ash (“Ash”) began this case by
filing a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g). In the
complaint, she challenged the final decision of the Acting
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”), a decision based upon findings
made by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
maintains that the ALJ's findings are not supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole. It is Ash's
contention that her residual functional capacity was not
properly assessed, and she offers two reasons why. She first
maintains that the ALJ failed to give proper weight to the
opinions of Dr. Roger Cagle, M.D., (“Cagle”),
Ash's treating physician. Second, Ash maintains that the
ALJ failed to give proper weight to the opinions contained in
a mental diagnostic evaluation and intellectual assessment
performed by Dr. Dennis Vowell, Psy.D.,
(“Vowell”). Because it is unclear why the ALJ
weighed the opinions as he did, the Court finds that a remand
is required to assess the claimant's residual functional
capacity, which is a determination of “the most a
person can do despite that person's limitations.”
See Brown v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 535, 538-39
(8th Cir. 2004). The assessment is made using all
of the relevant evidence in the record, but the assessment
must be supported by some medical evidence. See Wildman
v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959 (8th Cir. 2010). In
making the assessment, the ALJ is required to consider the
medical opinions in the record. See Wagner v.
Astrue, 499 F.3d 842 (8th Cir. 2007). A
treating physician's medical opinions are given
controlling weight if they are well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and
are not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence.
See Choate v. Barnhart, 457 F.3d 865 (8th
Cir. 2006). The ALJ may discount a treating physician's
medical opinions if other medical assessments are supported
by better or more thorough medical evidence or where the
treating physician renders inconsistent opinions that
undermine the credibility of his opinions. See Id.
alleged in her applications for disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income payments that she became
disabled beginning on June 26, 2010, although she later
amended her onset date to June 6, 2012. She alleged that she
became disabled as a result of impairments that included
chronic back pain; migraine headaches; osteoarthritis in her
hands, feet, and other joints; depression; and an
intellectual disability. She ably summarized the evidence in
the record, see Document 10 at CM/ECF 2-14, and the
Commissioner did not challenge the summary or otherwise place
it in dispute. The Court accepts the summary as a fair
summation of the evidence. The summary will not be
reproduced, save to note several matters germane to the
issues raised in the parties' briefs.
November 18, 2010, Ash was seen by Vowell for a mental
diagnostic evaluation and intellectual assessment in
connection with a prior claim for benefits. See
Transcript at 504-510. Ash described her overall mood as
depressed. She reported being sad most days and described
feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. She additionally
reported “difficulty with reading comprehension.”
See Transcript at 504. She reported being previously
diagnosed with a learning disability and having taken
remedial classes in school. She also reported a history of
chronic back pain and chronic headaches.
noted that Ash had no history of mental health treatment. Ash
had never been prescribed medication for her mental health
issues, and she had never been hospitalized for any such
issues. She identified “financial problems as an
obstacle to treatment.” See Transcript at 505.
also recorded Ash's personal and employment history. Ash
reported that she obtained a high school diploma but was
enrolled in resource classes beginning in elementary school
for help with math and reading. She last worked in June of
2010 at a Family Dollar store where she served as an
assistant manager. She quit the job because she was not
allowed time off to visit with her daughter. Ash reported no
difficulty interacting appropriately with her peers and
administered Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Fourth Edition
(“WAIS-IV”) testing, and Ash's scores
included a full scale IQ score of fifty-seven. The score
placed her within the range of one mildly mentally retarded.
Vowell believed Ash to have put forth her best effort and
believed the score to be a valid assessment of her
diagnosed a dysthymic disorder and mild mental retardation.
With respect to the effects of Ash's mental impairments
on her adaptive functioning, Vowell opined the following:
A. How do mental impairments interfere with this person's
day to day [a]daptive functioning? ...
Claimant is capable of driving unfamiliar routes but
currently does not have a vehicle. She is capable of shopping
independently and manages her own finances. She is able to
complete basic household chores and basic ADL's
[i.e., activities of daily living].
B. Capacity to communicate and interact in a socially
adequate manner? ...
Claimant appeared capable of adequate and socially
appropriate communication and interaction in today's
C. Capacity to cope with the typical mental/cognitive demands
of basic work-like tasks?
The [c]laimant appeared to sustain a reasonable degree of
cognitive efficiently and was able to track and respond to
various kinds of questions and tasks without ...