United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER
T. KEARNEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Bridgeforth applied for disabled widow's benefits with an
alleged disability onset date of April 1, 2008. (R. at 76).
The onset date was later amended to July 26, 2012, the date
of her husband's death. (R. at 135). The administrative
law judge (ALJ) denied benefits after a hearing. (R. at 144).
The Appeals Council granted Bridgeforth's request for
review and remanded the case. (R. at 154-55). At the second
hearing, Bridgeforth amended her onset date again to April 1,
2014. (R. at 54-55). The ALJ again denied benefits. (R. at
29). The Appeals Council denied Bridgeforth's request for
review. (R. at 1). The ALJ's decision stands as the
Commissioner's final decision, and Bridgeforth has
requested judicial review. The parties have consented to the
jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge.
reasons stated below, this Court affirms the ALJ's
The Commissioner's Decision
found that Bridgeforth had the severe impairments of liver
disease and substance abuse disorder. (R. at 23). The ALJ
then found that Bridgeforth had the residual functional
capacity to perform light work except that she could lift
and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds
frequently; stand and/or walk with normal breaks for six
hours in an eight-hour workday; sit with normal breaks for
six hours in an eight-hour workday; push and/or pull with the
same limits as for lift and/or carry; occasionally climb
ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; and
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. (R. at
25-26). The ALJ found that the RFC would allow Bridgeforth to
perform her past relevant work as a carding-machine operator.
(R. at 28). The ALJ therefore held that Bridgeforth was not
disabled. (R. at 28-29).
argues that the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the
record and failed to call a vocational expert (VE) at the
hearing. These arguments fail for the reasons stated below.
Court will affirm the ALJ's decision if it is supported
by “substantial evidence in the record as a whole,
” which is more than a scintilla but less than a
preponderance. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925
(8th Cir. 2009). Even if it is possible to draw two
inconsistent positions from the evidence, the Court must
affirm if one of those positions represents the ALJ's
findings. Milam v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 978, 983 (8th
Development of the Record
contends that the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the
record, as the medical records show diagnoses of additional
impairments not identified by the ALJ, and that a
consultative examination should have been ordered where there
were no treatment records after the amended alleged onset
has a duty to fully and fairly develop the record, but this
duty does not require the ALJ to act as substitute counsel
for the claimant. Whitman v. Colvin, 762 F.3d 701,
707 (8th Cir. 2014). In this case, the ALJ correctly observed
that there are no treatment records for Bridgeforth after the
amended alleged onset date of April 1, 2014 but for a single
office visit on April 2, 2014. (R. at 24, 866-68). At the
hearing, Bridgeforth's counsel stated that there were no
outstanding treatment records. (R. at 43). Bridgeforth also
never requested a consultative examination. The ALJ's
duty to develop the record does not require that the ALJ
engage in a possibly fruitless fishing expedition.
latest hearing in this case occurred on April 6, 2016. (R. at
37). At that time, Bridgeforth had not been treated in over
two years for any of her conditions. Such failure to seek
treatment contradicts claims of disability. Milam v.
Colvin, 794 F.3d 978, 985 (8th Cir. 2015). Bridgeforth
has not offered any explanation for this lack of treatment.
The ALJ considered all the evidence of record, including a
2012 consultative examination as directed by the Appeals
Council. (R. at 27). There is no evidence of significant
limitations assigned by treating physicians. The Court cannot
hold that the ALJ failed to develop the record where the
record is practically devoid of evidence of medical treatment
of limitations due to Bridgeforth's impairments after the
alleged onset date.
Vocational Expert Testimony
second argument, Bridgeforth maintains that the ALJ was
required to call a VE to testify at the hearing. Bridgeforth
seems to also argue in this point that the ALJ did not
include sufficient limitations in the RFC to account for all
of her impairments. However, as noted above, Bridgeforth
failed to provide evidence that she has sought medical
treatment since April 2, 2014 or any evidence of limitations
arising from her impairments during that ...