United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION INSTRUCTIONS
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
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.
FOR RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION
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.
The Commissioner's Decision
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).
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).
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.
Treating Physician Opinion
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.
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.
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).
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 ...