United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
TISHA L. PHIFER PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER 
Tisha L. Phifer, applied for disability benefits on November
25, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of July 31, 2013.
(Tr. at 17). After conducting a hearing, the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied her application. (Tr. at
26). The Appeals Council denied her request for review. (Tr.
at 1). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner, and Ms. Phifer has requested
The Commissioner=s Decision:
found that Ms. Phifer had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date of July 31, 2013. (Tr.
at 19). At Step Two of the sequential five-step analysis, the
ALJ found that Ms. Phifer has the following severe
impairment: degenerative disc disease. Id. The ALJ
found that Ms. Phifer's impairment did not meet or equal
a listed impairment. (Tr. at 20). Before proceeding to Step
Four, the ALJ determined that Phifer had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at
the sedentary level, except she would have to avoid constant,
repetitive bending. Id.
next found that Ms. Phifer was able to perform past relevant
work as a warehouse worker, waitress, and telemarketer. (Tr.
at 25). The ALJ made an alternative finding at Step Five. He
relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert
("VE") to find that, considering Ms. Phifer's
age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that she could
perform. (Tr. at 25-26). Therefore, the ALJ found
that Ms. Phifer was not disabled. Id.
Standard of Review The Court's function on review is to
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole
and whether it is based on legal error. Miller v.
Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015); see
also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). While “substantial
evidence” is that which a reasonable mind might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion, “substantial
evidence on the record as a whole” requires a court to
engage in a more scrutinizing analysis:
“[O]ur review is more than an examination of the record
for the existence of substantial evidence in support of the
Commissioner's decision; we also take into account
whatever in the record fairly detracts from that
decision.” Reversal is not warranted, however,
“merely because substantial evidence would have
supported an opposite decision.”
Reed v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005)
not the task of this Court to review the evidence and make an
independent decision. Neither is it to reverse the decision
of the ALJ because there is evidence in the record which
contradicts his findings. The test is whether there is
substantial evidence in the record as a whole which supports
the decision of the ALJ. Miller, 784 F.3d at 477.
The Court has reviewed the entire record, including the
briefs, the ALJ's decision, and the transcript of the
Phifer's Arguments on Appeal
Phifer contends that substantial evidence does not support
the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. She argues that: 1)
the ALJ erred by not conducting the Psychiatric Review
Technique (“PRT”); and 2) he did not give proper
weight to the opinion of treating physician, Dr. Mike Umerah,
M.D. After reviewing the record as a whole, the Court
concludes that the ALJ did not err in denying benefits.
sparse record is made up almost entirely of records from Dr.
Umerah. Ms. Phifer treated with him on a handful of occasions
from 2012 to 2015. (Tr. at 270-315). She reported back pain,
and Dr. Umerah found limited flexion and extension as well as
lumbar tenderness. Id. He diagnosed degenerative
disc disease and anxiety/depression. Id. He
prescribed painkillers, and Ms. Phifer reported at almost all
of the visits that her pain was at a level 2-3 with the aid
of the medications. (Tr. at 275-304). Impairments that are
controllable or amenable to treatment do not support a
finding of total disability. Mittlestedt v. Apfel,
204 F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2000). On only one occasion, in
August 2015, Ms. Phifer's pain rated a 9 out of 10. (Tr.
Umerah did not order any objective imaging, and he did not
suggest more than conservative treatment. Ms. Phifer did not
see a pain specialist, undergo injections, or seek surgical
intervention. The need for only conservative treatment