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Wilson v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

November 7, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration [1] DEFENDANT


         This Recommendation has been sent to Judge James M. Moody, Jr. Either party may file written objections to this Recommendation. If objections are filed, they should be specific and should include the factual or legal basis for the objection.

         To be considered, objections must be received in the office of the Court Clerk within 14 days. If no objections are filed, Judge Moody can adopt this Recommendation without independently reviewing the record. And, if they do not file objections, parties may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.

         I. Introduction:

         On January 25, 2016, Tammie Coleen Wilson applied for disability benefits, alleging disability beginning April 15, 2012.[2] (Tr. at 12, 101) Her claims were denied both initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied Ms. Wilson's application. (Tr. at 26) She requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision, but that request was denied. (Tr. at 1) Therefore, the ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Ms. Wilson filed this case seeking judicial review of the decision denying her benefits.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Ms. Wilson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset date of August 1, 2014. (Tr. at 14) At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Wilson had the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis/degenerative disc disease and scoliosis of the lumbar spine, obesity, hypothyroidism, hypertension, and a history of multiple bilateral knee surgeries, including bilateral total knee arthroplasty. (Tr. at 15)

         After finding that Ms. Wilson's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 17), the ALJ determined that Ms. Wilson had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform the full range of work at the sedentary level, with some additional limitations. Id. She could not climb, kneel, crouch, or crawl. Id. She could only occasionally balance and stoop. Id. She must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. Id.

         The ALJ found that, based on the assigned RFC and testimony from the Vocational Expert (VE), Ms. Wilson could perform her past relevant work as a transcriber and an accounting clerk. (Tr. at 25). Based on that step-four determination, the ALJ held that Ms. Wilson was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review In this appeal, the Court must review the Commissioner's decision for legal error and assure that the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Brown v. Colvin, 825 F.3d 936, 939 (8th Cir. 2016) (citing Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929 (8th Cir. 2010)). Stated another way, the decision must rest on enough evidence that “a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support [the] conclusion.” Halverson, 600 F.3d at 929. The Court will not reverse the decision, however, solely because there is evidence to support a conclusion different from that reached by the Commissioner. Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 578 (8th Cir. 2006).

         B. Ms. Wilson's Arguments on Appeal

         Ms. Wilson maintains that the evidence supporting the ALJ's decision to deny benefits is less than substantial. She argues four points in this appeal: (1) the ALJ failed to fully develop the record; (2) the ALJ did not give proper weight to the opinion of Dr. Roxanne Marshall, M.D.; (3) the credibility analysis was flawed; and (4) the ALJ erred at step four in his determination that Ms. Wilson could return to her past relevant work. After reviewing the whole record, however, the Court concludes that the ALJ did not err in denying benefits.

         Much of the evidence in the record pertains to hospital visits prior to the relevant time period, which began August 1, 2014. Generally, that evidence showed mild objective findings, conservative treatment, and positive response to medication. (Tr. at 464, 469, 501, 524, 525, 530, 533, 650-658, 801-844, 909, 910, 1074, 1081, 1153) Also, throughout the record, Ms. Wilson (who was 5'5” and weighed over 200 pounds) was counseled to lose weight, improve her diet, and exercise. (Tr. at 524-525, 533-534, 1187) She did not follow these suggestions. A failure to follow a recommended course of treatment weighs against a claimant. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 802 (8th Cir. 2005).

         Dr. Marshall, Ms. Wilson's treating physician, told her that her morbid obesity was putting her at high risk for stroke and heart problems. (Tr. at 524) Indeed, medical experts concur that problems such as chest pain, hypertension, low back pain, and osteoarthritis of the knees are complicated by obesity, and that was the case here. The ALJ discussed the effect Ms. Wilson's obesity had on her health, as required by the regulations; he properly found that obesity did not render her unable to work when considered in combination with her other impairments. ...

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