United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
November 12, 2014, Dana Stanfel applied for supplemental
security income benefits, alleging disability beginning on
November 29, 2006. (Tr. at 15) Ms. Stanfel's claim was
denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After
conducting a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) denied Ms. Stanfel's application.
(Tr. at 27) Ms. Stanfel requested that the Appeals Council
review the ALJ's decision, but that request was denied.
(Tr. at 1) Therefore, the ALJ's decision now stands as
the final decision of the Commissioner. Ms. Stanfel filed
this case seeking judicial review of the decision denying her
benefits. For the reasons stated below, the
Court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.
The Commissioner's Decision:
found that Ms. Stanfel had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the application date of November 12, 2014.
(Tr. at 17) At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ
found that Ms. Stanfel had the following severe impairments:
osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus,
obesity, affective disorder, and anxiety disorder.
finding that Ms. Stanfel's impairments did not meet or
equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 18), the ALJ determined
that Ms. Stanfel had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform the full range of work at the
light exertional level, with some limitations. She could only
occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, and she could
only perform simple, routine tasks with incidental
interpersonal contact with the public and coworkers. (Tr. at
found that Ms. Stanfel had no past relevant work. (Tr. at
26). At step five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a
Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find that, based on
Ms. Stanfel's age, education, work experience and RFC,
she was capable of performing work in the national economy as
merchandise marker and routing clerk. (Tr. at 27). The ALJ
determined, therefore, that Ms. Stanfel was not disabled.
Standard of Review
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 he ALJ's decision.”
Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir.
2009)(citation omitted). In making this determination, the
Court must consider not only evidence that supports the
Commissioner's decision, but also, evidence that supports
a contrary outcome. The Court cannot reverse the decision,
however, “merely because substantial evidence exists
for the opposite decision.” Long v. Chater,
108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).
Stanfel's Arguments on Appeal
appeal, Ms. Stanfel contends that the ALJ's decision to
deny benefits is not supported by substantial evidence. She
argues that the RFC did not fully incorporate all of her
limitations, specifically those set forth by her treating
physician, Kristi Statler, M.D.
testing did not show disabling medical conditions. An MRI of
Ms. Stanfel's lumbar spine in January of 2006 was normal.
(Tr. at 283-284) At the same time, an x-ray of her lumbar
spine showed no bony abnormalities. (Tr. at 277-279) A brain
MRI from March 2008 was within normal limits. (Tr. at
303-304) A head MRI in 2014 was also normal. (Tr. at 391-393)
MRIs of Ms. Stanfel's lumbar and cervical spine in March
of 2015 were normal. Normal examination findings argue
against a finding of disabling pain. Gowell v.
Apfel, 242 F.3d 793, 796 (8th Cir. 2001).
John Hines, M.D., examined Ms. Stanfel for pain symptoms in
2005, he noted that her pain response was exaggerated, and he
questioned the authenticity of pain. (Tr. at 275-276) After a
2006 examination, Stephen Golden, M.D., also noted that Ms.
Stanfel might be malingering. (Tr. at 280-282) Evidence of
malingering supports an ALJ's decision to discount a
claimant's complaints. Davidson v. Astrue, 578
F.3d 838, 844 (8th Cir. 2009).
Stanfel reported improvement thanks to medication. Topamax
reportedly helping with migraines in March of 2006. (Tr. at
288-290) Lexapro helped in March of 2008. (Tr. at 306-307)
Migraine and anxiety medications apparently worked well in
December of 2011. (Tr. at 330-332) Abilify and Celexa
reportedly helped in February of 2012. (Tr. at 468-470) Ms.
Stanfel's blood-sugar levels were controlled in 2013,
2014, and 2015. (Tr. at 425-426, 413-415, 673-675) Her
reported pain was manageable with medication as of April,
2016. (Tr. at 735-738) Impairments ...