United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
Sonda Rogers (“Rogers”), in her appeal of the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (defendant “Berryhill”) to deny
her claim for Disability Insurance benefits (DIB), contends
the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred: (1)
by giving little or no weight to treating and examining
physicians' opinions; (2) in determining her residual
functional capacity (“RFC”); and (3) by failing
to present a legally sufficient hypothetical question to
elicit vocational evidence showing Rogers could perform jobs
in the national economy. The parties have ably summarized the
medical records and the testimony given at the administrative
hearing conducted on November 30, 2016. (Tr. 99-113). The
Court has carefully reviewed the record to determine whether
there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to
support Berryhill's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
The relevant period under consideration is from August 15,
2013, Rogers' alleged onset date, through March 22, 2017,
when the ALJ ruled against Rogers.
who was 53 years old at the time of the administrative
hearing, completed two years of college, and now lives alone.
She quit working in August 2013, in part to be available for
her partner of 23 years, who was ill with cancer and who died
in January 2014. Rogers stated she does not cook, does some
cleaning, drives but sometimes panics and gets confused
behind the wheel, and has problems walking. Rogers estimated
she could walk for about 10 minutes before having problems,
and stated she is in “constant pain.” (Tr. 103).
She testified to being unable to lift more than 10 pounds,
and to being unable to bend and get back up. Rogers stated
she takes Effexor for peripheral neuropathy, Xanax as needed,
Hydrocodone three times a day, either Flexeril or Soma at
night, Trazodone, and an allergy pill daily. She indicated
she was not receiving any counseling or physical therapy, but
attempting to manage her pain with medications. When Rogers
quit working in 2013, she stated she was already having
memory loss issues and missing work regularly. These problems
became “dramatically worse” thereafter. (Tr.
108). Further, Rogers indicated her peripheral neuropathy has
worsened. The main thing preventing her from work is
“my memory capacity, panic - - terrible panic
attacks” and “constant back pain.” (Tr.
Clem (“Clem”), a vocational expert, stated
Rogers' past work as a receptionist was semi-skilled work
performed at the sedentary exertional level, her past work as
an office manager was skilled sedentary work, and her past
work as an optometry technician was skilled light work. The
ALJ posed a hypothetical question to Clem, asking her to
assume a worker of Rogers' age, education, and
experience, who could perform light work but only
occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl, and kneel.
Nonexertionally, the work would involve interpersonal contact
that was incidental to the work performed (defined as a
limited degree of interaction such as meeting and greeting
the public, answering simple questions, accepting pay and
making change), the complexity of tasks could be learned by
demonstration or repetition within 30 days, the work would
involve few variables, little judgment, and supervision would
be simple, direct, and concrete. Clem responded that such a
worker could not perform Rogers' past relevant jobs but
could perform other jobs, such as cashier II or housekeeper.
If the hypothetical question were changed to assume sedentary
rather than light work, Clem identified no jobs which Rogers
could perform. (Tr. 110-112).
March 22, 2017, decision, the ALJ determined Rogers had the
following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease,
peripheral neuropathy, affective disorder, and anxiety
disorder. The ALJ found Rogers did not meet any Listing, and
specifically mentioned Listings 1.04, 11.14, 12.04, and
12.06. The ALJ considered the “paragraph B”
criteria, finding Rogers had a moderate limitation in
understanding, remembering, or applying, a moderate
limitation in interacting with others, a moderate limitation
with regard to concentrating, persisting, or maintaining
pace, and a mild limitation for adapting or managing oneself.
The ALJ also found Rogers did not meet the “paragraph
C” criteria. The ALJ further determined Rogers had the
RFC to perform light work with the restrictions which
mirrored those posed to Clem in the ALJ's hypothetical
question. The ALJ noted Rogers' consistent work record.
Also, the ALJ found the prescribing of narcotic, neuropathic,
anti-inflammatory pain, and psychotropic medications was
consistent with Rogers' subjective allegations of pain.
The ALJ found, however, that the objective medical evidence
did not support Rogers' complaints, and he also
determined her testimony at the hearing was “vague and
general, lacking the specificity, which might otherwise make
it more persuasive.” (Tr. 83).
discussed the objective medical evidence, including the
findings and opinions of treating physician Dr. Charles
Davidson (“Davidson”), consultative examiner Dr.
Roger L. Troxel (“Troxel”), consultative
psychological examiner Dr. Vicki Caspall
(“Caspall”), and state agency physicians and
psychologists. The ALJ ultimately found Rogers'
statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and
limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely consistent
with the medical and other evidence of record.
upon the testimony of Clem, the ALJ found Rogers unable to
perform any of her past relevant work, and found she could
perform the jobs of cashier II and housekeeper. Accordingly,
the ALJ held Rogers was not disabled. (Tr. 77-88).
Evidence During the Relevant Period:
was seen by treating physician Davidson on August 15, 2013,
complaining of hives. Davidson noted a history of anxiety,
and listed her current problems as generalized anxiety,
depressive disorder not elsewhere classified, fatigue,
hypothyroidism, plantar fasciitis, urticaria
(“hives”), and vitamin B12 deficiency. Physical
examination was unremarkable, with Davidson generally finding
Rogers to be well developed, well nourished, and with no
apparent distress. He diagnosed her with hives and
generalized anxiety. (Tr. 368-369).
saw Rogers for an earache on October 10, 2014. (Tr. 366-367).
A follow up visit related to the earache occurred on October
23, 2014. (Tr. 364-366). On both visits, physical examination
was unremarkable, with the exception of the earache, and
Davidson again found Rogers to be well developed, well
nourished, and with no apparent distress.
saw Davidson on November 14, 2014, presenting with anxiety.
Davison assessed her with generalized anxiety, vitamin B12
deficiency, and insomnia. Physical examination was
unremarkable, with Davidson generally finding Rogers to be
well developed, well nourished, and with no apparent
distress. (Tr. 362-363).
returned to Davison on December 17, 2014, for insomnia and
anxiety. Davidson noted Rogers reported her anxiety was
improved, controlled at this time. He assessed generalized
anxiety and insomnia, and his physical findings were
consistent with earlier visits. (Tr. 360-361).
March 2015, Rogers was seen for anxiety, insomnia, and
fatigue. Davidson indicated Rogers' anxiety disorder was
originally diagnosed more than 5 years ago. Rogers was
assessed with generalized anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue,
with no change in the physical examination. (Tr. 357-358).
Two other May 2015 visits to Davidson addressed a ...