United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
REBECCA S. WILBURN PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
T. KEARNEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
following Recommended Disposition
(“Recommendation”) has been sent to United States
District Judge 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
Wilburn applied for social security disability benefits with
an alleged onset date of February 21, 2014. (R. at 158).
After a hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) denied
her application. (R. at 18). The Appeals Council denied her
request for review. (R. at 1). The ALJ's decision now
stands as the Commissioner's final decision, and Wilburn
has requested judicial review.
reasons stated below, the magistrate judge recommends
reversing and remanding the Commissioner's decision.
The Commissioner's Decision
found that Wilburn had the severe impairments of bipolar
disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. (R. at 13). The
ALJ then found that Wilburn's impairments left her with
the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at all
exertional levels except that she could understand, remember,
and carry out simple job instructions; make judgments in
simple work-related situations; respond appropriately to
co-workers/supervisors with incidental contact that is not
necessary to perform the work; respond appropriately to minor
changes in a usual work routine; and should avoid interaction
with the public. (R. at 14). A vocational expert (VE)
testified that a person with Wilburn's RFC could perform
her past relevant work as a small products assembler. (R. at
18). The ALJ therefore held that Wilburn was not disabled.
(R. at 18).
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 only that the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop
the record, arguing that the records are clearly incomplete
and that a consultative examination was necessary. For the
reasons stated below, the undersigned must agree.
has alleged only mental impairments in her application for
benefits. (R. at 158). As Wilburn correctly notes, the
analysis of mental impairments can be more complicated than
that of physical impairments, as periods of remission and
symptom-free intervals may occur yet may not indicate that an
individual is not disabled. Andler v.
Chater, 100 F.3d 1389, 1393 (8th Cir. 1996). Further,
the ALJ has a duty to ensure that the record contains medical
evidence from a treating or examining physician addressing
the impairments at issue. Strongson v. Barnhart, 361
F.3d 1066, 1071-72 (8th Cir. 2004).
treating psychiatrists opined that Wilburn's symptoms
would prevent her from holding down a job. (R. at 397, 399).
A treating counselor opined that she is overwhelmed by
“even the smallest tasks that most would not be
troubled by.” (R. at 412). The ALJ discredited all
three of these opinions, stating that the doctors'
opinions were inconsistent with the evidence and that the
counselor was not an acceptable medical source. (R. at 17).
The ALJ also discredited the opinions because Wilburn
“was able to retain an attorney and deal with her
insurance company after [a] motor vehicle accident” and
because “there is no evidence that either psychiatrist
observed the claimant having a panic attack.” (R. at
17). The ALJ gave great weight to the opinions of
non-examining State Agency consultants. (R. at 17). However,
such opinions are not normally entitled such weight.
Singh v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 452 (8th Cir. 2000).
In this case, the ALJ did not attempt to explain why the
opinions of consultants who never met Wilburn were more
reliable than the opinions of psychiatrists who had
substantial experience treating her.
ALJ's reasons for discrediting the treating psychiatrists
are questionable at best. He discredited them in part because
the record did not indicate that Wilburn had had a panic
attack during a visit with either psychiatrist. This is
simply an illogical requirement. A medical opinion cannot be
invalidated simply because a doctor did not observe a
particular symptom manifest during a treatment session.
Moreover, the ALJ discredited the physicians as ...