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Hoyt v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Northern Division

October 18, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT


         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Barry L. Hoyt, protectively applied for disability income benefits (“DIB”) on January 30, 1991, and he applied for supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) on March 25, 2014. (Tr. at 21) In both applications, he alleged an onset date of January 1, 1991. Id. Mr. Hoyt's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Mr. Hoyt's application. (Tr. at 33) 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 Mr. Hoyt has requested judicial review.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Mr. Hoyt's date last insured was June 30, 2006. (Tr. at 21) He was first insured for DIB on July 1, 2004. Id. Therefore, to be successful on his DIB claim, Mr. Hoyt must establish disability between July 1, 2004 and June 30, 2006. Id. The ALJ found insufficient medical evidence to establish disability during that time; thus, the ALJ proceeded with his analysis based upon the SSI claim. (Tr. at 21, 54) Mr. Hoyt's attorney consented to consideration of the SSI claim only. (Tr. at 55).

         The ALJ found that Mr. Hoyt had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of January 1, 1991. (Tr. at 23) At Step Two of the five-step process, the ALJ found that Mr. Hoyt had the following severe impairments: organic mental disorder, personality disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder. Id.

         After finding that Mr. Hoyt's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 25), the ALJ determined that Mr. Hoyt had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to work at all exertional levels, with limitations. (Tr. at 27) He could understand, remember, and carry out simple work-related tasks; make judgments in simple work-related situations; respond appropriately to coworkers and/or supervisors with occasional incidental contact that is not necessary to perform the work; respond appropriately to minor changes in usual work routine; and have no direct or indirect contact with the general public. Id.

         The ALJ found that Mr. Hoyt had no past relevant work. (Tr. at 31) At Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find that, based on Mr. Hoyt's age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform. (Tr. at 31-32) Based on that Step Five determination, the ALJ held that Mr. Hoyt was not disabled. (Tr. at 33)

         III. Discussion:

         The 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 “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.” Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir.2009)(citation omitted). In reviewing the ALJ decision, the Court must consider not only evidence that supports the 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)).

         A. Arguments on Appeal

         Mr. Hoyt argues that the RFC finding is not supported by substantial evidence, and that the ALJ did not give proper weight to the opinion of consulting examiner Jerry Cunningham, Psy.D.

         A claimant's RFC represents the most he can do despite the combined effects of all of his credible limitations considering all credible evidence. McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). In determining the claimant's RFC, “the ALJ has a duty to establish, by competent medical evidence, the physical and mental activity that the claimant can perform in a work setting, after giving appropriate consideration to all of [his] impairments.” Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 418 (8th Cir. 1996). Here, Mr. Hoyt contends that the RFC did not account for his mental functional limitations.

         The record contains scant evidence of significant mental impairments. At various appointments with prison doctors over the span of a ten-year confinement, Mr. Hoyt rarely complained of mental impairments. At one point, he threatened to take all of his “B/P meds, ” (Tr. at 357), but then he said he was feeling better and had no thoughts of self-harm. (Tr. at 353-360) He was diagnosed with Pedophilia, Borderline Intellectual Functioning, and Borderline Personality Disorder, but exhibited a good mood, cooperative attitude, and rational and goal-directed thought process on February 24, 2014. (Tr. at 377). The prison records do not support a finding of disabling mental impairments.

         Mr. Hoyt sought treatment fewer than 10 times at Dayspring Behavioral Health (“Dayspring”) in 2014 and 2015. (Tr. at 380-418, 475-490). He had generally normal mental status examinations, and reported that he liked to draw, help others, and fish. (Tr. at 479-481). Mr. Hoyt was not always complaint with medications. A failure to follow a recommended course of treatment weighs against a claimant's credibility. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 802 (8th Cir. 2005). In fact, Mr. Hoyt was discharged from services at Dayspring for failure to ...

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