United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division
D. NOCE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
action is before this court for judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that
plaintiff Charles Hendricks, Jr., is not disabled and, thus,
not entitled to disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. The parties have
consented to the exercise of plenary authority by the
undersigned United States Magistrate judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. §§ 636(c). For the reasons set forth below,
the final decision of the Commissioner is reversed and the
case is remanded to the Commissioner..
was born on August 24, 1974. (Tr. 205). He protectively filed
his application for DIB on April 12, 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of January 26, 2013. (Tr. 11, 205).
Plaintiff claimed that the following conditions limited his
ability to work: “bipolar, neuropathy, glaucoma, gout,
pain syndrome, ” and diabetes. (Tr. 240).
Plaintiff's application was denied on September 6, 2013,
and he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 11, 149-55). A video hearing was
held in August 2014, where plaintiff and a vocational expert
(“VE”) testified. (Tr. 34-77). By decision dated
October 23, 2014, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not
disabled under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 8-21). The ALJ
determined that plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform jobs available in the
national economy. (Tr. 13-21). On December 18, 2015, the
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of
the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-6). Consequently, the
ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the
argues that the ALJ's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence, in that the ALJ improperly evaluated
the medical opinions and failed to perform a proper
credibility analysis of plaintiff's testimony.
Specifically, plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred in
discounting the opinions of treating and consulting examiners
Nurse Horn, Nurse Hampton, and Dr. Rau, while giving the
opinion of non-examining consultant Dr. Brandhorst some
weight. (Tr. 18-19). He also argues that if the ALJ properly
assessed the relative weight given to the opinions, there was
insufficient evidence in the record from which the ALJ could
determine plaintiff's RFC. Finally, plaintiff claims the
ALJ's analysis of plaintiff's credibility improperly
ignored the Polaski factors, including
plaintiff's work history. See Polaski v.
Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984). Plaintiff asks
that the ALJ's decision be reversed and the case remanded
for a new administrative hearing.
Medical Record and Evidentiary Hearing
court adopts plaintiff's unopposed statement of facts
(ECF No. 12), as well as defendant's unopposed statement
of facts. (ECF No. 17). These facts, taken together, present
a fair and accurate summary of the medical record and
testimony at the evidentiary hearing. The court will discuss
specific facts as they relate to the parties' arguments.
found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since his alleged onset date of January 26, 2014.
(Tr. 13). He also found that plaintiff suffered from the
severe impairments of lumbar facet syndrome, degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar spine, diabetes mellitus,
hypertension, cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure,
peripheral neuropathy, arthralgia, fibromyalgia, venous
insufficiencies, dyslipidemia, obstructive sleep apnea,
morbid obesity, and bipolar disorder. Id. The ALJ
concluded that none of these impairments, individually or in
combination, met or equaled an impairment listed in the
Commissioner's list of presumptively disabling
impairments. (Tr. 14-15). With respect to plaintiff's
mental impairment, the ALJ found that the “paragraph
B” criteria were not met, because plaintiff had only
mild restrictions in activities of daily living; moderate
restrictions in social functioning and with regard to
concentration, persistence, or pace; and no extended episodes
of decompensation. Id.
found that plaintiff's impairments left him with the RFC
to “perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
404.1567(b), ” except that he cannot climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds, although he can occasionally climb ramps
or stairs. (Tr. 16). The ALJ also found that plaintiff's
mental RFC was limited to “only simple tasks that do
not involve more than occasional interaction with the general
public, supervisors and coworkers.” Id. The
ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments could reasonably
be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, but that
plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms “were
not entirely credible.” Id.
reasoned that plaintiff's medical records, conservative
treatment history, and good response to medication supported
limitations only to the extent described in the RFC.
Id. Specifically, the ALJ described plaintiff's
hearing testimony, noting that he testified he can lift 20
pounds comfortably, can stand for 20 minutes, cannot sit for
long periods, gets frustrated easily when interacting with
other people, can walk up to a mile per day on a treadmill
and is able to do light chores, needs his wife to accompany
him to the grocery store, and has difficulty concentrating.
Id. The ALJ noted that plaintiff's physical
examinations consistently show benign or normal findings and
his heart and sleeping problems were successfully treated.
Id. at 16-17. The ALJ also considered
plaintiff's activities of daily living “suggest he
is capable of more than he alleges.” Id. at
17. Plaintiff stated in his functional report that he does
the dishes, cleans the house, prepares meals, sweeps,
vacuums, and does outdoor chores like trimming and edging.
(Tr. 17, 250-60). Finally, the ALJ pointed out that
plaintiff's mental condition “does have brief
exacerbations, but overall, his condition is relatively
stable with medication.” (Tr. 18). He observed that
plaintiff's bipolar disorder affects his ability to
perform basic work activities to the extent described in the
RFC, but plaintiff's ability to do household chores, use
a computer, read the news, and care for his cats belie the
severity of his alleged limitations. (Tr. 18, 250-60).
terms of the medical opinions in the record, the ALJ
explained that he gave “some weight” to state
agency psychological consultant Dr. Scott Brandhorst, Psy.D.
because his opinion was “consistent with the objective
medical evidence, the claimant's course of treatment and
the claimant's documented good response to
treatment.” Id. In the state disability
determination explanation, the consultant noted that while
plaintiff complained of mental health issues, mental status
exams produced few abnormalities. (Tr. 18, 99-115). The ALJ
found the consultants' limitations to be consistent with
plaintiff's history of normal findings and conservative
treatment. (Tr. 18). He gave it only “some
weight” because the consultants opined plaintiff needed
“moderate social limits” without further
explanation. (Tr. 18, 99-115).
gave Dr. Debra Rau's opinion “little weight”
because it was not supported by the medical evidence. (Tr.
18). Dr. Rau opined that plaintiff's mental condition
would seriously interfere with plaintiff's ability to
concentrate, interact with others, and understand and
remember instructions. (Tr. 409-12). The ALJ found that this
did not comport with the medical evidence, plaintiff's
conservative treatment history, and his good response to
treatment. (Tr. 18). Specifically, plaintiff reported he has
no problem following written instruction, and plaintiff's
mental status exams showed normal findings with only moderate
anxiety. (Tr. 18-19, 250-60, 350-64, 405). Occasional bouts
of poor judgment or obsessive behavior were treated
conservatively with medication and counseling, and plaintiff
was able to do simple arithmetic without difficulty.
Id. The ALJ further found that Dr. Rau's opinion
was inconsistent with her own examination. During
plaintiff's interview with Dr. Rau, she noted he was
alert, made normal movements, made good eye contact, had no
specific short-term memory difficulties, had fairly-organized
thought processes, and was able to follow simple
instructions. (Tr. 19, 409, 12). She assigned him a Global
Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”)
score of 52, which suggests only moderate
also gave the opinions from the nurse practitioners little
weight because he did not find them supported by the medical
evidence. (Tr. 19). The ALJ found Nurse Wanda Horn's
opinion, indicating plaintiff had marked and extreme mental
limitations, to be inconsistent with plaintiff's
treatment records. (Tr. 19, 308-9). The ALJ found Nurse Leigh
Hampton's opinion, indicating plaintiff had mostly
moderate and marked limitations, to be inconsistent with
plaintiff's treatment records showing only minor
abnormalities on examination and conservative treatment with
medication. (Tr. 19, 350-64, 405). The ALJ also noted that it
did not appear that Nurse Hampton ever treated plaintiff ...