United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
ORDER REMANDING TO THE COMMISSIONER
T. KEARNEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Poe filed for social security disability benefits with an
alleged onset date of October 31, 2003. (R. at 118). The
administrative law judge (ALJ) denied her application after a
hearing. (R. at 1). The Appeals Council declined Poe's
request for review. (R. at 1). Poe requested judicial review,
and the case was reversed and remanded upon an unopposed
motion by the Commissioner. (R. at 431). After a second
hearing, the ALJ once again denied Poe's application. (R.
at 377). The Appeals Council again declined to review. (R. at
357). Poe once again requested judicial review, and the
parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the Magistrate
reasons stated below, this Court reverses and remands the
The Commissioner's Decision
found that Poe had the severe impairments of disorders of the
spine including degenerative disk disease, spondylosis, and
occult spina bifida and mild degenerative changes of the left
knee. (R. at 371). The ALJ found that, as of the date last
insured, she had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to
perform light work, except that she required work that
allowed her to change positions from sitting to standing
every thirty minutes; could frequently reach, handle, and
finger; and could occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. (R. at 373). The
ALJ took testimony from a vocational expert and determined
that this RFC would not allow Poe to return to her past
relevant work. (R. at 375). The VE testified, however, that
the RFC would allow Poe to perform jobs such as personal care
attendant or companion. (R. at 376). The ALJ therefore held
that Poe was not disabled. (R. at 377).
argues that the ALJ improperly rejected standing and walking
limitations in the opinion of her treating physician and
found an RFC that is internally inconsistent. The Court
review, this Court determines whether substantial evidence on
the record as a whole supports the ALJ's decision.
Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997).
“Substantial evidence” is evidence that a
reasonable mind would find sufficient to support the
ALJ's decision. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923,
925 (8th Cir. 2009). Reversal is not warranted merely because
substantial evidence exists to support a contrary conclusion.
Long, 108 F.3d at 187.
gave reduced weight to the opinion of John Hines, D.O.
insofar as it related to limitations placed on
standing/walking, but great weight to the rest of the
opinion. (R. at 375). Whatever weight an ALJ gives to the
opinion of a treating physician, the ALJ must provide good
reason for the weight given. Hamilton v. Astrue, 518
F.3d 607, 610 (8th Cir. 2008). The ALJ stated that Poe never
reported difficulty with standing or walking during the
relevant period and thus found no basis for the limitations
that Dr. Hines found. (R. at 375).
ALJ's reasoning is flawed. The Court notes that the ALJ
mischaracterized aspects of the treatment record in order to
support her finding that Poe was not disabled. Specifically,
the ALJ noted that Dr. Hines had stated in 2008 that
“surgery was not a good option” and that
“surgery was not warranted” in 2009. (R. at 374).
The ALJ's paraphrasing changes the tenor of Dr.
Hines's statements. Reading the ALJ's versions, it
appears that Dr. Hines believed that Poe's condition was
not severe enough to warrant surgery. However, Dr. Hines
actually opined that he did not “think much can be done
from a neurosurgical standpoint” and that he
“doubt[s] there is much to do from [a] neurosurgical
standpoint.” (R. at 221, 222). Dr. Hines's notes do
not indicate that he believed Poe's condition was not
severe enough to warrant surgery but rather that he believed
surgery would not relieve her symptoms. This was not an
indictment of the severity of Poe's impairments as the
ALJ implied. It is error for an ALJ to reject a treating
source's conclusions based such a mischaracterization.
DiMasse v. Barnhart, 88 Fed.Appx. 956, 957 (8th Cir.
the ALJ's statement that Poe had no complaints during the
relevant period concerning standing and walking is unfounded.
Poe complained in February 2007 that her pain was aggravated
by movement. (R. at 229). She reported that she would
sometimes have to manually lift her leg to get into a vehicle
during flare-ups. (R. at 338). She also reported pain
radiating down her legs in December 2008. (R. at 219).
notes that Dr. Hines's opinion extends back to February
2007 and indicates that the limitations in it apply to the
period prior to December 2008. (R. at 348). The Commissioner
counters that Dr. Hines's opinion extends to the present
(June 2013 at the time the opinion was rendered). (R. at
348). The Commissioner appears to argue that Dr. Hines's
opinion is not entitled to consideration because the period
it covers includes a period after the date last insured. The
Commissioner's argument is unavailing. The question is
whether the opinion applies to the relevant period, not
whether it is limited to the relevant period. The opinion
clearly indicates that Poe has suffered the limitations
therein since February 2007, and it makes no difference that
Dr. Hines believes she still has the same limitations.
with these considerations, the ALJ found that Poe had a
severe impairment of mild degenerative changes of the left
knee. (R. at 371). The Commissioner argues that this
impairment is mild and therefore would not cause additional
problems with standing or walking. However, this is
inconsistent with the ALJ's finding that this was a
severe impairment. Furthermore, even if it were a non-severe
impairment, the ALJ would still have to account for it in the
RFC. 20 C.F.R. 404.1545. Poe's knee impairment in
combination with her back impairment would cause greater
problems with standing and walking than either impairment
also contends that the ALJ's limitations on her ability
to bend (i.e., stooping, crouching, and crawling) are
inconsistent with the ALJ requiring her to shift from sitting
to standing every thirty minutes. The Commissioner responds
that Poe impermissibly relies on a report in December 2009
(after the date last insured) that her back pain was made
worse by bending and getting out of chairs. (R. at 215). The
Commissioner is mistaken. The ALJ already determined that Poe
was limited in her ability to bend. Poe merely illustrates
that such frequent shifting between sitting and standing
requires bending that is otherwise disallowed in ...