United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Little Rock Division
DANIEL C. HARRIS PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT
RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION INSTRUCTIONS
T. KEARNEY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
following Recommended Disposition
(“Recommendation”) has been sent to United States
District Kristine Baker. You may file written objections to
all or part of this Recommendation. If you do so, those
objections must: (1) specifically explain the factual and/or
legal basis for your objection; and (2) be received by the
Clerk of this Court within fourteen (14) days of this
Recommendation. By not objecting, you may waive the right to
appeal questions of fact.
FOR RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION
Harris applied for social security disability benefits with
an alleged onset date of September 30, 2009. (R. at 234).
After a hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) denied
his application. (R. at 132). The Appeals Council denied his
request for review. (R. at 1). The ALJ's decision now
stands as the Commissioner's final decision, and Harris
has requested judicial review.
reasons stated below, the magistrate judge recommends
reversing and remanding the Commissioner's decision.
The Commissioner's Decision
is insured through March 31, 2014. (R. at 117). The ALJ found
that Harris had engaged in substantial gainful activity from
September 20, 2009 through October 2013. (R. at 119). The ALJ
found that, through the date last insured, Harris had the
severe impairments of degenerative disk disease, personality
disorder, and affective disorder (R. at 120). The ALJ then
found that, through the date last insured, Harris's
impairments left him with the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform light work except that he could no more than
occasionally climb, balance, crawl, kneel, stoop, or crouch;
would be limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks in
a setting where interpersonal contact is incidental to the
work performed; and could respond to supervision that is
simple, direct, and concrete. (R. at 122). The RFC precluded
Harris's past relevant work. (R. at 130). However, a
vocational expert (VE) testified that a person with
Harris's RFC could perform jobs such as power screwdriver
operator, can filling and closing machine tender, or
compression molding machine tender. (R. at 131). The ALJ
therefore held that Harris was not disabled. (R. at 132).
Court is to affirm the ALJ's decision if it is not based
on legal error and is supported by “substantial
evidence in the record as a whole, ” which is more than
a scintilla but less than a preponderance. Long v.
Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997). The Court
considers evidence supporting and evidence detracting from
the Commissioner's decision, but it will not reverse
simply because substantial evidence could support a different
outcome. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th
argues that the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the
record, failed to perform a proper credibility assessment,
and did not properly consider the medical evidence in
composing the RFC. As the undersigned finds that the ALJ
failed to properly consider the evidence, it is not necessary
to reach Harris's other points.
Harris engaged in substantial gainful activity until October
2013, the relevant period under consideration is November
2013 to March 2014. During this time, Harris was treated for
several mental health issues. Harris argues that the ALJ
failed to properly consider the global assessment of
functioning (GAF) scores assessed by his treating mental
health providers during this time. On November 19, 2013,
Harris was assigned a GAF of 25 during an admission at the
Bridgeway. (R. at 477-80). At discharge, Harris's GAF as
assessed by Robert Jarvis, M.D. was 45. (R. at 475). His GAF
on admission to Counseling Associates in January 2014 was 45.
(R. at 539). On February 3, 2014, he was assessed with a GAF
of 35. (R. at 556).
Harris notes, the Eighth Circuit has found that a history of
GAF scores under 50 is indicative of serious symptoms and
that an ALJ may not ignore those scores. Pate-Fires v.
Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 944 (8th Cir. 2009). The
Commissioner argues that the ALJ properly considered the
scores by stating that they were considered and afforded
little weight. (R. at 130). The undersigned cannot agree. The
ALJ gave great weight to the opinion of consultative examiner
Steve Shry, Ph.D., who examined Harris in September 2006,
March 2014, and August 2014. (R. at 469-72, 561-65, 601-06).
The ALJ did afford little weight to the September 2006
opinion, which was rendered years before the alleged onset
date. (R. at 128). However, Dr. Shry's other examinations
occurred near the end of the relevant time period and after
the relevant time period. The GAF scores are the closest
thing to an opinion from a treating mental health provider in
the record, and they are consistently under 50 throughout the
relevant time period. The ALJ did not specifically consider
the scores but only dismissed GAF scores generally. (R. at
130). The ALJ's consideration of Harris's mental
health treatment records was cursory, while he considered Dr.
Shry's opinions in depth. (R. at 125, 128-29).
Furthermore, Dr. Shry's examination of March 2014 notes
that the “examiner believes this exam to be invalid and
is not a reliable indication of claimant's current
intellectual and adaptive functioning level. Further
evaluation appears to be warranted.” (R. at 564). His
August examination includes the same note. (R. at 604). While
the ALJ can certainly consider Harris's apparent
malingering in assessing the consistency of his subjective
complaints with the medical evidence, the ALJ's
assignment of great weight to Dr. Shry's opinions appears
contrary to the opinions themselves. Certainly, the mental
health treatment records and GAF scores are worthy of more
detailed consideration where the consultative examiner
believed his assessments to be invalid and where the GAF
scores are the best indication of what the treating providers
believed to be Harris's functioning level.
medical evidence pertaining to Harris's mental
impairments during the relevant time period requires further