United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Northern Division
17, 2016, Harold Ferguson applied for disability benefits,
alleging disability beginning on February 14, 2016. (Tr. at
13) His claims were denied both initially and upon
reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied Mr. Ferguson's
application. (Tr. at 26) He 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. Mr.
Ferguson filed this case seeking judicial review of the
decision denying him benefits.
reasons explained below, the Court reverses the
Commissioner's decision and remands for further review.
The Commissioner's Decision:
found that Mr. Ferguson had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date of February 14,
2016. (Tr. at 15) At step two of the five-step analysis, the
ALJ found that Mr. Ferguson had the following severe
impairments: history of right foot stress fracture, major
depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and
finding that Mr. Ferguson's impairments did not meet or
equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 16), the ALJ determined
that Mr. Ferguson had the residual functional capacity (RFC)
to perform work at the sedentary level with limitations. (Tr.
at 18-19) He would require a sit/stand option that involved
standing or walking in intervals of 60 minutes and sitting in
intervals of 60 minutes. Id. He could occasionally
stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb stairs. Id.
He could never climb ladders or scaffolds. Id. He
had the mental ability to understand, remember, and carry out
simple job instructions; to make decisions/judgments in
simple work-related situations; to respond appropriately with
co-workers/supervisors, limited to occasional incidental
contact that is not required to perform the work; and to
respond appropriately to minor changes in the usual work
routine. Id. He should avoid interaction with the
found, based on Mr. Ferguson's RFC, that he was unable to
perform any past relevant work. (Tr. at 24) At step five, the
ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (VE) to
find, based on Mr. Ferguson's age, education, work
experience and RFC, that he was capable of performing work in
the national economy as document preparer and surveillance
system monitor. (Tr. at 25) Thus, the ALJ determined that Mr.
Ferguson was not disabled. (Tr. at 26)
Standard of Review
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).
Ferguson's Arguments on Appeal
Ferguson maintains that the ALJ's decision to deny
benefits is not supported by substantial evidence. He argues
that the RFC assigned by the ALJ failed to include required
limitations on concentration, persistence, and pace. He
further argues that the ALJ erred at step five. Specifically,
Mr. Ferguson asserts that the ALJ did not resolve an apparent
conflict between the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT)
and the VE's testimony. He also maintains that the
hypothetical posed by the ALJ did not incorporate all of the
ALJ's RFC findings. The Court agrees with Mr. Ferguson
with respect to his step-five argument.
Ferguson suffered from long-term anxiety and depression, for
which he received regular psychiatric treatment. (Tr. at 412,
396-399, 401-404, 410) He was frustrated with the number of
medications he was taking, and they were not resolving his
problems. (Tr. at 245-249, 570) Therapy notes showed minimal
progress. (Tr. at 270-296) He sometimes struggled to leave
his house for days at a time and avoided the public when he
did venture out. (Tr. at 40-45)
observed that treatment notes from 2016 and 2017 showed flat
and blunted affect, irritable mood, and combative and
apathetic attitude. (Tr. at 24) Mr. Ferguson had passive
suicidal ideations. Id. Brandon Treece, M.D., Mr.
Ferguson's treating physician, completed a medical source
statement that imposed moderate-to-extreme limitations in
basic work functions, such as keeping a schedule, interacting
with others, responding to changes in the work setting,
completing a normal workday, and performing at a consistent
pace. (Tr. at 592-593) The state agency reviewing doctors
found that Mr. ...