United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
CHRIS G. WARD, PLAINTIFF
COMMISSIONER, Social Security Administration, DEFENDANT
following Recommended Disposition
(“Recommendation”) has been sent to Chief Judge
Brian S. Miller. Any party may file written objections to all
or part of this Recommendation. Objections must set out the
factual or legal basis for the objection. To be considered
all objections must be received by the Clerk of Court within
14 days of this Recommendation. By not objecting, parties may
waive the right to appeal questions of fact.
Ward applied for social security disability benefits alleging
an onset date of March 1, 2012. (R. at 101). After a hearing,
the administrative law judge (ALJ) issued a decision denying
Mr. Ward's application. (R. at 33). The Appeals Council
then denied his request for review. (R. at 1). The ALJ's
decision now stands as the Commissioner's final decision.
Mr. Ward filed this lawsuit requesting judicial review.
The Commissioner's Decision
found that Mr. Ward had the following severe impairments:
anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder,
intermittent explosive anger disorder, hypertension,
Raynaud's disease, and degenerative disk disease of the
cervical and lumbar regions. (R. at 21). After considering
all of Mr. Ward's impairments, the ALJ determined that
Mr. Ward had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to
perform light work, except that he could only lift and carry
twenty pounds frequently and ten pounds occasionally; could
sit for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday; could
stand or walk a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday;
could only occasionally stoop, crouch, bend, kneel, crawl,
and balance; could never use ropes, ladders, or scaffolding;
and work would be limited to simple, routine, and repetitive
task where supervision is simple, direct, and concrete. He
could maintain frequent contact with coworkers and
supervisors but only occasional contact with the general
public. (R. at 23). The RFC the ALJ determined would not
allow Mr. Ward to return to any past relevant work. (R. at
heard testimony from a vocational expert (VE), who testified
that a person of Mr. Ward's age, education, work
experience, and RFC could perform jobs such as price tagger
and office helper (R. 32). The ALJ found, therefore, that Mr.
Ward was not disabled for purposes of the Social Security
Act. (R. at 32-33).
Ward argues that the mental RFC is not supported by
substantial evidence; that the physical RFC is not supported
by substantial evidence; and that the ALJ failed to meet the
step-five burden of demonstrating that jobs were available.
Because the mental RFC is not supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole, it is not necessary to
reach Mr. Ward's other points.
Court is tasked with determining whether substantial evidence
supports the Commissioner's findings. 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 Commissioner's decision, the
Court must consider all evidence in the record, both evidence
supporting the Commissioner's decision and also evidence
that detracts from the decision. Milam v. Colvin,
794 F.3d 978, 983 (8th Cir. 2015). The Court cannot reverse
the Commissioner's decision, however, merely because
sufficient evidence also supports a contrary outcome.
gave “some weight” to the opinion of consultative
examiner Samuel Hester, Ph.D., P.A., but discounted Dr.
Hester's opinion because he “appears to rely
heavily on the claimant's subjective reports.” (R.
at 30). Dr. Hester determined that Mr. Ward had a limited
capacity to communicate and interact in a socially adequate
manner. Even though Mr. Ward could cope with the mental
demands of basic work, Dr. Hester opined that, after a brief
period, Mr. Ward would likely have an explosive episode and
be terminated. Dr. Hester further opined that Mr. Ward might
not be able to complete work tasks within an acceptable
timeframe due to pain. (R. at 352).
Dr. Hester is a psychologist rather than a psychiatrist, his
evaluation necessarily relied on Mr. Ward's statements.
Even so, Dr. Hester stated that he had considered signs of
symptom exaggeration and malingering in making his
determination of Mr. Ward's mental state. (R. at 353).
Nothing in the record calls into question Dr. Hester's
professional judgment in evaluating Mr. Ward. The ALJ did not
provide sufficient reasons for discrediting Dr. Hester's
the ALJ summarily rejected the opinion of Kim Johnson,
L.P.C., Mr. Ward's counselor, because “despite her
lengthy treatment history with the claimant, she is not an
acceptable medical source for Social Security
purposes.” (R. at 30). In rejecting Ms. Johnson's
opinions, the ALJ cited SSR 06-03p. The ALJ's
interpretation of that ruling, however, was too narrow.
06-03p requires an ALJ to give consideration to “other
sources” rather than dismissing those opinions in such
a cursory manner. In fact, the ruling provides that the
opinions of non-acceptable medical sources at times may