United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
August 24, 2015, Becky Marie Keeling applied for Title II
disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning
December 31, 2014. (Tr. at 15) Ms. Keeling's claims were
denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After
conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) denied her application. (Tr. at 29) Ms.
Keeling requested that the Appeals Council review the
ALJ's decision, but that request was denied. (Tr. at 1-5)
Therefore, the ALJ's decision now stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner. Ms. Keeling filed this case
seeking judicial review of the decision denying her benefits.
The Commissioner's Decision:
found that Ms. Keeling had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity from her alleged onset date of December 31, 2014
through December 31, 2017, when she last met the insured
status requirements. (Tr. at 17) At step two of the five-step
analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Keeling had the following
severe impairments: disorder of the back and anxiety. (Tr. at
finding that Ms. Keeling's impairments did not meet or
equal a listed impairment, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Keeling had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work, with additional
limitations. (Tr. at 18-21) She could only frequently stoop
or crouch. (Id.) Also, mentally, she was limited to
semi-skilled work where interpersonal contact is routine but
superficial, the complexity of tasks is learned by
experience, involves several variables, uses judgment within
limits, and the supervision required is little for routine
but detailed for non-routine tasks. (Id.)
next found that Ms. Keeling could perform her past relevant
work as a general clerk and billing clerk. (Tr. at 26-27)
Relying on the testimony of a Vocational Expert
(“VE”), the ALJ also found, based on Ms.
Keeling's age, education, work experience and RFC, that
she could perform work in the national economy as a utility
teller and food sales clerk. (Tr. at 28) Based on these
findings, the ALJ held that Ms. Keeling was not disabled.
(Tr. at 28-29)
Standard of Review
Court's role is to determine whether the
Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial
evidence. Ash v. Colvin, 812 F.3d 686, 689 (8th Cir.
2016) (quoting McNamara v. Astrue, 590 F.3d 607, 610
(8th Cir. 2010)). “Substantial evidence” in this
context means “enough that a reasonable mind would find
it adequate to support the Commissioner's
conclusion.” Id. (quoting McKinney v.
Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000)). The Court
must consider not only evidence that supports the
Commissioner's decision, but also evidence that supports
a contrary outcome. Id. (quoting Carlson v.
Astrue, 604 F.3d 589, 592 (8th Cir. 2010)). The Court
cannot reverse the decision, however, “merely because
substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision.”
Lacroix v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 881, 885 (8th Cir.
2006) (quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017
Keeling's Argument on Appeal
Keeling contends that the ALJ's decision to deny benefits
is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, she
argues that the ALJ erred by discounting the opinions of
treating physicians Crosby and Allen and consulting physician
Webber and instead relied on the opinions of state agency
physicians who did not actually examine her. (#9 at 10) After
reviewing the record, the Court concludes that the ALJ did
not err in denying benefits.
Keeling was 46 years old at the time of the hearing, and she
lived alone. (Tr. at 37) She was a high school graduate and
had taken some college courses. (Tr. at 37) She had past work
as a secretary for her husband's farm business, but that
employment ended when she and her husband divorced. (Tr. at
40-41) She reported that she was able to care for her
granddaughter occasionally and care for her pets. She
reported no problem with personal care. She went outside
daily, performed simple chores, and was able to drive. (Tr.
at 224-32, 255-62)
Allen Cosby, M.D., diagnosed Ms. Keeling with lumbar
spondylosis at ¶ 5-S1; and in November 2008, Ms. Keeling
had a “[l]eft-sided L5-S1 decompressive
hemilaminectomy, total fasciectomy, and total discectomy with
foraminotomy.” (Tr. at 287) In appointments following
her back surgery in January, March, June, and September of
2009 and in February 2010, Ms. Keeling reported to Dr. Cosby
that her pain had improved. (Tr. at ...