United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
March 18, 2016, Jeffery Johnston applied for disability
benefits, alleging disability beginning on January 15, 2015.
(Tr. at 41) Mr. Johnston's claims were denied initially
and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a
hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
denied Mr. Johnston's application. (Tr. at 51) Mr.
Johnston requested that the Appeals Council review the
ALJ's decision, but that request was denied. (Tr. at 2)
Therefore, the ALJ's decision stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner. Mr. Johnston filed this case
seeking judicial review of the decision denying
The Commissioner's Decision:
found that Mr. Johnston had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date of January 15,
2015. (Tr. at 43) At step two of the five-step analysis, the
ALJ found that Mr. Johnston had the following severe
impairments: residuals from hernia repair, degenerative disc
disease of the cervical spine, scoliosis of the lumbar spine,
Raynaud's syndrome, anxiety disorder with panic attacks,
and bilateral foot impairments (heel spurs, callouses, and
plantar fasciitis). Id.
finding that Mr. Johnston's impairments did not meet or
equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 44), the ALJ determined
that Mr. Johnston had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform the full range of work at the
sedentary exertional level, with some restrictions. (Tr. at
45) He could only occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. Id. He could only
occasionally push and/or pull with the upper and lower
extremities. Id. He must avoid the use of foot
pedals. Id. He must avoid exposure to extreme cold
temperatures. Id. He could frequently handle and
finger. Id. And he would be limited to the
performance of unskilled work. Id.
found that Mr. Johnston was unable to perform any of his past
relevant work. (Tr. at 49) Relying on the testimony of a
Vocational Expert (“VE”), the ALJ found, based on
age, education, work experience and RFC, that Mr. Johnston
could perform work in the national economy as an inspector
and machine tender. (Tr. at 50) The ALJ determined,
therefore, that Mr. Johnston was not disabled. Id.
Standard of Review
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
. . . 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).
Johnston's Arguments on Appeal
appeal, Mr. Johnston maintains that the ALJ's decision to
deny benefits is not supported by substantial evidence. He
argues that the ALJ should have further developed the record
and that the assigned RFC did not fully incorporate all of
his limitations. Within those arguments he avers that the ALJ
should have given more weight to the opinion of Dr. Roger
Cagle, his primary care physician (“PCP”).
Johnston suffered from intermittent back pain, and x-rays and
CT scans showed degenerative disc disease, which the ALJ
found to be a severe impairment. (Tr. at 343-347) In November
2015, Mr. Johnston had normal range of motion in his back.
(Tr. at 381). At a doctor's visit in December 2015, he
did not report any problems and had no muscle aches, no
muscle spasms, no joint swelling, and no joint deformation.
(Tr. at 390) He had full range of motion in his back and
extremities. (Tr. at 391) Normal examination findings do not
support claims of disabling pain. Gowell v. Apfel,
242 F.3d 793, 796 (8th Cir. 2001). Furthermore, In February
2016, Mr. Johnston reported that medication helped with back
pain. (Tr. at 392) 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). In January 2017, Mr. Johnston demonstrated a
normal range of motion in his spine and normal heel to toe
walk. (Tr. at 410) He said that he had returned to work as a
plumber. (Tr. at 406) In April 2017, he again said that
medication helped. (Tr. at 428)
Johnston had bilateral hernias in November 2015; and he
underwent hernia repair at that time. (Tr. at 357-368) A few
weeks later he reported that he was doing well. (Tr. at 379)
Johnston complained of anxiety and panic attacks, but he
never sought formal treatment with a mental health
professional. The failure to seek regular and continuing
treatment contradicts allegations of disability. See
Gwathney v. Chater, 104 F.3d 1043, 1045 (8th Cir. 1997).
Mr. Johnston's PCP, Dr. Cagle, prescribed medication for
his anxiety, which reportedly reduced his symptoms. (Tr. at
409, 425) By February 2017, he was “much better with
nerves, ” and medication ...