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Barton v. Social Security Administration

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

August 2, 2018



         This Recommended Disposition (“Recommendation”) has been sent to Judge Kristine Baker. Either party may file written objections to this Recommendation. Objections should be specific and should include the factual or legal basis for the objection.

         To be considered, objections must be received in the office of the Court Clerk within 14 days of this Recommendation. If no objections are filed, Judge Baker can adopt this Recommendation without independently reviewing the record. By not objecting, parties may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.


         Marlene Barton applied for social security disability benefits with an alleged disability onset date of December 26, 2013. (R. at 86). The administrative law judge (ALJ) denied her application after a hearing. (R. at 30). The Appeals Council declined to review the decision (R. at 1), and Ms. Barton filed this lawsuit requesting judicial review.

         I. The Commissioner's Decision

         The ALJ found that Ms. Barton had the following severe impairments: disorder of the back, morbid obesity, and anxiety. (R. at 21). In spite of these impairments, the ALJ found that Ms. Barton had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work. The ALJ found that Ms. Barton could: lift or carry no more than fifty pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of up to twenty-five pounds; walk or stand up to six hours in an eight-hour workday; perform semi-skilled work, defined as work where interpersonal contact is routine but superficial, the complexity of tasks is learned by experience, involves several variables, uses judgment within limits, and the supervision required is little for routine but detailed for non-routine tasks. (R. at 23-24). A vocational expert (VE) testified that the RFC would allow Ms. Barton to perform her past relevant work as a certified nurse assistant, office worker, and auction clerk, and that she could perform other jobs in the national economy such as inventory clerk or delivery driver. (R. at 28-29). The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Ms. Barton was not disabled. (R. at 30).

         II. Discussion

         The Court reviews the record to determine whether substantial evidence on the record as a whole 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 this appeal, Ms. Barton argues that the ALJ failed to consider the opinion of her treating physician, failed to consider the observations of a State Agency interviewer, and erred in relying on the State Agency consultants' opinions.

         A. Treating Physician Opinion

         Ms. Barton first argues that the ALJ impermissibly ignored the opinion of her treating physician. Jim Citty, M.D., noted on Ms. Barton's application for student loan discharge dated January 13, 2016, that Ms. Barton had disabling impairments of peripheral neuropathy and hypothyroidism, with moderate limitations in standing, walking, lifting, and activities of daily living; fair residual functionality; and emotional lability. (R. at 291). The ALJ made no mention of this opinion in the decision.

         As Ms. Barton points out, a court may reverse where it is unsure what weight-if any-was given to a physician's opinion. McCadney v. Astrue, 519 F.3d 764, 767 (8th Cir. 2008). However, as the Commissioner points out, it is error only if the ALJ fails to discuss a treating physician's opinion where the record contains no contradictory opinion. Black v. Apfel, 143 F.3d 383, 386 (8th Cir. 1998). A number of facts weigh against reversing on this point.

         First, Dr. Citty's opinion is not included with the medical evidence and was not submitted as such. The opinion is a form completed for the purpose of discharging Ms. Barton's student loans. (R. at 290-91). Dr. Citty merely checked boxes and filled in a few blanks. Second, and more importantly, Dr. Citty's treatment notes contradict this opinion. Dr. Citty's treatment notes from January 20, 2015, February 18, 2015, and March 30, 2015 state that Ms. Barton had no physical disability. (R. at 581, 585, 588). On multiple occasions, Dr. Citty also noted that Ms. Barton had no active problems and no back pain. (R. at 558-59, 562-63, 566-67, 579-80, 583-84, 587, 664-65, 668, 671-72, 676-77, 680, 684, 688-89, 692-93, 696-97, 700-01, 704-05, 873-74, 878-79, 883).

         Furthermore, Wesley Sprinkle, D.O., released Ms. Barton to work regular duty on May 6, 2014. (R. at 443). He noted that she had reached maximum medical improvement, with her back pain at a tolerable level and a zero percent impairment rating. (R. at 445). There is no other ...

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