United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
following Recommended Disposition
(“Recommendation”) has been sent to Chief Judge
Brian S. Miller. Either party may file written objections to
all or part of this Recommendation. Objections should
identify and explain the factual or legal basis for the
objection. To be considered, objections must be filed with
the Clerk of Court within 14 days of this Recommendation. By
not objecting, parties may waive the right to appeal
questions of fact.
Fielder applied for social security disability benefits with
an alleged onset date of August 16, 2014. (R. at 121). After
a hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”)
denied Ms. Fielder's applications. (R. at 27-28). And,
the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (R. at 1).
The ALJ's decision now stands as the Commissioner's
final decision, and Ms. Fielder has requested judicial
The Commissioner's Decision
found that Ms. Fielder had the following severe impairments:
fibromyalgia, degenerative disk disease of the cervical and
lumbar spine, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension,
osteoarthritis of the right hip, obstructive sleep apnea,
obesity, depression, anxiety, mild neurocognitive impairment,
post-traumatic-stress disorder, borderline personality
features, and somatoform disorder. (R. at 19). The ALJ found
that Ms. Fielder had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work, in spite of her
impairments, except that she was limited to unskilled work
with simple, routine, repetitive tasks where the supervision
is simple, direct, and concrete. She was limited to jobs with
an SVP of 1 or 2 that jobs can be learned within thirty days;
that require no interaction with the general public; that
have only occasional changes to the workplace setting; and
that have no exposure to hazards. (R. at 22). This RFC
precluded Ms. Fielder's past relevant work. (R. at 26).
took testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”),
who testified that a person with Ms. Fielder's age,
education, work experience, and RFC could perform other jobs
such as price tagger or garment bagger. (R. 27). The ALJ
held, therefore, that Ms. Fielder was not be disabled. (R. at
Fielder argues that the ALJ: improperly assessed the medical
opinions and evidence; failed to present a proper
hypothetical question to the vocational expert; and
improperly assessed her credibility. Because the ALJ
improperly evaluated the medical opinion evidence, it is not
necessary to reach Ms. Fielder's other points.
appeal, the Court must review the Commissioner's decision
for legal error and assure that the decision is supported by
substantial evidence on the whole record. Brown v.
Colvin, 825 F.3d 936, 939 (8th Cir. 2016) (citing
Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929 (8th Cir.
2010)). Stated another way, the decision must rest on enough
evidence that “a reasonable mind would find it adequate
to support [the Commissioner's] conclusion.”
Halverson, 600 F.3d at 929. The Court will not
reverse the decision, however, solely because there is
evidence to support a conclusion different from that reached
by the Commissioner. Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d
575, 578 (8th Cir. 2006).
evaluating the opinion evidence, the ALJ gave the most weight
to the opinions of non-examining State Agency consultants.
(R. at 26). In relying on these opinions, the ALJ noted that
the reports were rendered after “thorough review of the
record.” (R. at 26). The most recent of the State
Agency consultants' opinions is dated February 25, 2016.
(R. at 188). The most recent evidence considered by the State
Agency consultants was received on February 9, 2016 and
concerned treatment dates up to January 26, 2016. (R. at
record in this case includes treatment records through
December 15, 2016. (R. at 1665). The record includes 648
pages generated after February 25, 2016, the most recent
records available to the consultants. (R. at 1033-1680). By
comparison, the State Agency consultants reviewed 577 pages,
that is, less than half of the records. (R. at 456- 1032).
This calls into question whether the State Agency
consultants' opinions were rendered after a
“thorough” review of the record. Moreover, these
opinions are also the only medical opinions in the record
regarding Ms. Fielder's physical capabilities.
opinion of a physician who has never examined a claimant is
not generally entitled to significant weight. Singh v.
Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 452 (8th Cir. 2000). There is
nothing in the record to indicate why this general rule is
not applicable in this case, particularly given that the
consultants reviewed less than half of the medical evidence
in the record.
the ALJ failed to adequately consider Ms. Fielder's renal
failure caused by anti-inflammatory medications. The record
shows that Ms. Fielder's doctors ordered her not to take
non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) after her
acute renal failure. (R. at 1149). The ALJ briefly mentioned
that Ms. Fielder had suffered acute renal failure due to
ibuprofen overuse but neglected to discuss the consequences
this had on her other conditions. (R. at 24). This additional
impairment prevents Ms. Fielder from taking medication to
manage her other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis.