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Sinko v. Social Security Administration

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

November 26, 2018



         I. Introduction:

         On February 28, 2014, Lillie Sinko applied for disability benefits, alleging disability beginning on April 1, 2011. (Tr. at 26) Ms. Sinko's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Ms. Sinko's application. (Tr. at 38-39) Ms. Sinko requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision, but that request was denied. (Tr. at 1) Therefore, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Ms. Sinko filed this case seeking judicial review of the decision denying her benefits.[1]

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Ms. Sinko had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from the amended alleged onset date of April 1, 2011, through her date last insured, March 31, 2015. (Tr. at 28) At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Sinko had the following severe impairments: disorder of the back, hypertension, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Id.

         After finding that Ms. Sinko's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 29), the ALJ determined that Ms. Sinko had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of work at the medium exertional level.[2] (Tr. at 30). There were no non-exertional restrictions included in the RFC finding. Id.

         Based on this RFC, the ALJ determined that Ms. Sinko was able to perform her past relevant work as a production line solderer and assembler. (Tr. at 37) However, the ALJ made an alternate finding at step five. He relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find that, based on her age, education, work experience and RFC, Ms. Sinko could perform other work in the national economy, such as laundry worker and dining room attendant. (Tr. at 38) The ALJ determined, therefore, that Ms. Sinko was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The 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).

         B. Ms. Sinko's Arguments on Appeal

         In this appeal, Ms. Sinko maintains that the ALJ's decision to deny benefits is not supported by substantial evidence. She argues that the ALJ erred by finding her capable of work at the medium level.

         A claimant's RFC represents the most she can do despite the combined effects of all credible limitations and must be based on all credible evidence. McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). In determining a claimant's RFC, the ALJ has a duty to establish, by competent medical evidence, the physical and mental activity that the claimant could perform in a work setting, giving appropriate consideration to all impairments. Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 418 (8th Cir. 1996).

         Ms. Sinko asserts that she suffers from disabling high blood pressure. The evidence shows, however, that she was non-compliant in taking her medication and that, when she did take medication, her blood pressure readings improved. (Tr. at 279, 377). A failure to follow a recommended course of treatment weighs against a claimant's credibility. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 802 (8th Cir. 2005). In July 2014, Ms. Sinko reported that she had not taken blood pressure medication for “some time.” In January of 2015, her cardiologist noted that Ms. Sinko's blood pressure was well-controlled with medication. (Tr. at 377, 430) Impairments that are controllable or amenable to treatment do not support a finding of total disability. Mittlestedt v. Apfel, 204 F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2000). Ms. Sinko conceded that medication controlled her high blood pressure condition. (Tr. at 52)

         Furthermore, in her brief, Ms. Sinko cites only to her high blood pressure readings, but the record also reflects normal readings during the relevant time-period. (Tr. at 302, 399, 400, 432) A medical consultative examiner, Donita Keown, M.D., stated that, given adequate management of her blood pressure, Ms. Sinko could perform medium work with no assistive devices. (Tr. at 448) The ALJ properly gave Dr. Keown's opinion great weight, because it was consistent with the medical evidence ...

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