United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
Pamela Gail Hooten, applied for disability income benefits
(“DIB”) on May 1, 2014 and for supplemental
security income benefits (“SSI”) on May 5, 2014.
(Tr. at 17) In both applications, she alleged an onset date
of May 1, 2013. Id. Ms. Hooten's claims were
denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After
conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) denied Ms. Hooten's application. (Tr.
at 25) The Appeals Council denied her request for review.
(Tr. at 1) The ALJ's decision, therefore, now stands as
the final decision of the Commissioner, and Ms. Hooten has
requested judicial review. For the reasons stated below, the
Court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.
The Commissioner's Decision:
found that Ms. Hooten had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date of May 1, 2013.
Id. At Step Two of the five-step process, the ALJ found
that Ms. Hooten has the following severe impairments:
idiopathic peripheral neuropathy, morbid obesity,
degenerative joint disease, and osteoarthritis. Id.
finding that Ms. Hooten's impairments did not meet or
equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 21), the ALJ determined
that Ms. Hooten had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, with frequent
use of the hands to handle and finger, but with no
concentrated exposure to cold temperatures. (Tr. at 22) The
ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert
(“VE”) to find that, based on Ms. Hooten's
age, education, work experience and RFC, she was capable of
performing past relevant work as a telephone representative
and a computer programmer. (Tr. at 24) Based on that
determination, the ALJ held that Ms. Hooten was not disabled.
(Tr. at 25)
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). The Court must consider not only evidence that
supports the Commissioner's decision, but also evidence
that supports a contrary outcome. Nevertheless, the Court
cannot reverse the decision, “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
Arguments on Appeal
Hooten argues that the RFC finding is not supported by
substantial evidence and that the RFC for sedentary work with
frequent fingering and handling is beyond Ms. Hooten's
claimant's RFC represents the most she can do despite the
combined effects of all of her credible limitations. It must
be based on 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 [her] impairments.”
Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 418 (8th Cir.
records from Lawrence County Family Clinic indicate that at
appointments from 2012 through 2014, Ms. Hooten complained of
pain in her lower extremity joints and left knee. (Tr. at
279-342). Kevin Diamond, M.D., diagnosed her with
polyneuropathy, restless leg syndrome, and osteoarthritis; he
prescribed Lyrica and Tramadol. (Tr. at 288, 293, 296, 302,
303). Ms. Hooten reported to Dr. Diamond that the Lyrica
worked well for pain, and she reiterated that at the hearing.
(Tr. at 43-44, 286).
Diamond also found Ms. Hooten to be morbidly obese and, over
the course of treatment, she went from about 250 pounds to
290 pounds. (Tr. at 281, 290, 301, 304). Dr. Diamond
recommended therapeutic exercise and weight loss to improve
her condition. (Tr. at 284, 354) Ms. Hooten did not attend
physical therapy sessions or lose weight. 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).
Ms. Hooten complained that her pain was debilitating,
musculoskeletal exams were normal on August 6, 2013, April
30, 2014, August 18, 2014, and March 12, 2015. (Tr. at 281,
290, 348, 352) She had full active range of motion in her
knee and no collateral instability on January 7, 2014. (Tr.
at 283-284) On only one occasion, she showed an antalgic
gait. (Tr. at 352-354)
John Woloszyn, M.D., recommended knee replacement surgery on
March 12, 2015 (after x-rays showed medial joint space
collapse and sclerosis with massive osteophytes), he
indicated that she would not be able to proceed with surgery
until she lost 50 pounds. (Tr. at 386) Her progressive weight
gain over several years did not mitigate her symptoms, nor
help her case for disability. Indeed, rather than undertake
surgery or other invasive measures, she was treated
conservatively with injections and prescription medication.
The need for only conservative treatment contradicts
allegations of disabling pain. Sm ...