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Bales v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

June 25, 2019

MARY BALES PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS JUDGE

         Currently before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") (Doc. 13) of the Honorable Erin L. Wiedemann, Chief United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Arkansas, filed in this case on April 25, 2019. Plaintiff Mary Bales requests judicial review of the decision to deny her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the provisions of Title II of the Social Security Act.

         The Magistrate Judge recommends affirming the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") determination that Plaintiff is not entitled to DIB benefits. In Plaintiffs objections (Doc. 14), she argues that the ALJ erred in not giving enough weight to objective tests performed by Dr. H. Gene Chambers, a neuropsychologist, that indicated moderate-severe impairment in processing speed, extreme impairment in attention and concentration, severe impairment in short-term memory, and severe impairment in depression and anxiety. She also argues the R&R does not properly address her subjective complaints and her complaints of tremors.

         In light of Plaintiffs objections, the Court has undertaken a de novo review of the record, and after doing so, finds that the objections do not justify deviating from the Magistrate Judge's recommendation.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         In reviewing a decision of an ALJ, the Court must determine if the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Flynn v. Chater, 107 F.3d 617, 620 (8th Cir. 1997); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is "less than a preponderance." Rodysill v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 947, 949 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010)). Additionally, substantial evidence is "relevant evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion." Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000). The Court considers evidence that supports the ALJ's decision alongside evidence that detracts. Rodysill, 745 F.3d at 949.

         If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion, the Court cannot reverse simply because substantial evidence also supports a different outcome. Jones, 619 F.3d at 968; Haley v. Massanarl, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). Essentially, if "after reviewing the record, the Court finds that it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the ALJ's findings, the Court must affirm the ALJ's decision." Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790-91 (8th Cir. 2005).

         II. OBJECTIONS

         Plaintiff's first objection stems from the ALJ's decision to give little weight to the objective tests done by Dr. Chambers, one of Plaintiff's treating psychologists, that indicated Plaintiff suffered from moderate-severe impairment in processing speed, extreme impairment in attention and concentration, severe impairment in short-term memory, and severe depression and anxiety. The ALJ offered the following justification for rejecting Dr. Chambers' opinion:

The two psychological assessments provided by Dr. Chambers are vastly different from all the other treating records showing normal findings. For this reason, I accord the opinions little weight (Exh 2F, 14F).

(Doc. 9 at 30). Plaintiff argued that this analysis was not sufficiently detailed to allow for appellate review and that the R&R did not address the ALJ's failure to comply with 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527, which states the factors that are to be examined when weighing conflicting medical opinions involved in disability claims.

         The R&R notes that the ALJ discussed the medical opinions of treating, examining, and non-examining professionals when determining the Plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"), including the opinions of Drs. DeYoung, Foster, Moon, Chambers, Kelly, Fields, Redd, and Clemens. (Doc. 13 at 19). It is a function of the ALJ to resolve conflicts among the opinions of various treating and examining physicians. Renstrom v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1065 (8th Cir. 2012). The ALJ may reject the conclusions of any medical expert if they are inconsistent with the record as a whole. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). After reviewing the record, the Court agrees with the R&R that the ALJ adequately justified giving little weight to Dr. Chambers' opinions. Those opinions contradicted the opinions of all the other examining professionals, and Plaintiffs own self-report of the activities she was able to perform on a daily basis showed that she was not as limited as Dr. Chambers' reports indicated. Accordingly, the first objection is overruled.

         Plaintiffs second objection is that the R&R did not properly address Plaintiffs subjective mental complaints. The Court disagrees. The R&R recounted many of Plaintiffs subjective complaints and noted the ALJ properly considered and evaluated these complaints in view of the factors listed in Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984). Plaintiff claims she cares for her pets, was able to vacation in South Texas, makes breakfast occasionally, pays bills, uses a checkbook, and performs several other tasks. Even if Plaintiff qualified some of these activities by saying she could only perform them "at times" or "occasionally," the ALJ correctly concluded that Plaintiff is still able to engage in gainful activities despite suffering some minor degree of limitation.

         Further, one of the Polaski factors to especially note is "dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of [her] medication." See Id. Even though Plaintiffs mental impairments that affected these subjective experiences were only treated conservatively with medication, the medication improved her symptoms. Impairments that can be controlled with treatment or medication are not disabling. See Estes v. Barnhart,275 F.3d 722, 725 (8th Cir. 2002). Furthermore, doctors recommended psychotherapy as part of Plaintiffs treatment plan for her mental health complaints, but she refused to attend therapy at all. It is well-established that "[f]ailure to follow a prescribed course of remedial treatment ...


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