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Watkins v. Berryhill

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

April 10, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT




         This recommended disposition has been submitted to United States District Judge Kristine G. Baker. The parties may file specific objections to these findings and recommendations and must provide the factual or legal basis for each objection. The objections must be filed with the Clerk no later than fourteen (14) days from the date of the findings and recommendations. A copy must be served on the opposing party. The district judge, even in the absence of objections, may reject these proposed findings and recommendations in whole or in part.


         Plaintiff, Matthew Watkins, appears pro se and has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration to deny his claim for disability insurance benefits. Both parties have submitted appeal briefs and the case is now ready for a decision.

         A 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 free of legal error. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009); Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Reynolds v. Chater, 82 F.3d 254, 257 (8th Cir. 1996). In assessing the substantiality of the evidence, courts must consider evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it; a court may not, however, reverse the Commissioner's decision merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision. Sultan v. Barnhart, 368 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir. 2004); Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993).

         The history of the administrative proceedings and the statement of facts relevant to this decision are contained in the respective briefs and are not in serious dispute. Therefore, they will not be repeated in this opinion except as necessary. After careful consideration of the record as a whole, I find the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence.

         Plaintiff was thirty-three years old at the time of the administrative hearing. (Tr. 34.) He testified that he earned a bachelor's degree in construction management. (Id.) Mr. Watkins has past relevant work as a security guard (including shift supervisor), carpenter, line worker, and landscape worker. (Tr. 22.)

         The Administrative Law Judge[2] found Mr. Watkins has “severe” impairments in the form of “dermatomyositis, adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood, and conversion disorder, rule out.” (Tr. 11.) The ALJ further found Mr. Watkins did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or equaling an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.[3] (Tr. 11-13.)

         The ALJ determined Mr. Watkins had the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of sedentary work. (Tr. 13-14.) Given this residual functional capacity, Mr. Watkins is no longer able to perform his past relevant work. (Tr. 22.) Therefore, the ALJ employed the services of a vocational expert to determine whether jobs existed that Mr. Watkins could perform despite his impairments. (Tr. 57-62.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing the jobs of document preparer and lamp shade assembler. (Tr. 23.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined Mr. Watkins was not disabled. (Tr. 23-24.)

         In support of his Complaint, Plaintiff argues the ALJ should have given “controlling weight” to Tim Freyaldenhoven, M.D. (Doc. No. 13 at 2-13.) Plaintiff is correct that his treating doctor should generally be given deference, but after a close review of the records, I find the ALJ properly assessed the opinion of Dr. Freyaldenhoven.

         The ALJ actually gave “significant weight” to Dr. Freyaldenhoven's Medical Assessment Form. (Tr. 656-660.) The Assessment largely supports the ALJ's determination that Mr. Watkins is capable of performing sedentary work. The ALJ stated, “The undersigned has given significant weight to this opinion based on Dr. [Freyaldenhoven's] familiarity with the claimant's history and condition and his specialized experience in the field of neurology.” (Tr. 20.) The ALJ also noted Dr. Freyaldenhoven's opinion was generally consistent with the overall evidence of record. (Id.) The point of contention is Dr. Freyaldenhoven's statement that Plaintiff would be required to miss work “more than four days a month.” (Tr. 659.) On that point, the ALJ stated, “. . . this assessment is also based on a provisional diagnosis of dermatomyositis and the provided allowance for work absences in excess of four time[s] a month is overly restrictive in light of the claimant's relatively benign presentation throughout the record.” (Tr. 20.)

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has reiterated:

Generally, a treating physician's opinion is given more weight than other sources in a disability proceeding. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). Indeed, when the treating physician's opinion is supported by proper medical testing, and is not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record, the ALJ must give the opinion controlling weight. Id. “However, [a]n ALJ may discount or even disregard the opinion of a treating physician where other medical assessments are supported by better or more thorough medical evidence, or where a treating physician renders inconsistent opinions that undermine the credibility of such opinions.” Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 964 (8th Cir. 2010) (alteration in original) ...

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