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Robinson v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas

June 24, 2014

Carl Fredick Robinson, Plaintiff
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


H. DAVID YOUNG, Magistrate Judge.

The following recommended disposition will be sent to U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson. A party to this dispute may file and serve written objections to this recommendation. An objection must be specific and state the factual and/or legal basis for the objection. An objection to a factual finding must identify the finding and the evidence supporting the objection. Objections must be filed with the clerk of the court no later than 14 days from the date of this recommendation.[1] Failing to object within 14 days may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.[2] An objecting party who seeks to submit new, different, or additional evidence, or to obtain a hearing for that purpose, must address the following matters as part of written objections: (1) why the record before the magistrate judge was inadequate, (2) why the evidence was not presented to the magistrate judge, and (3) details and/or copies of any testimony and/or documents to be proffered at a hearing. Based on this submission, Judge Wilson will determine the need for a hearing.

Recommended Disposition

Carl Fredrick Robinson seeks judicial review of the denial of his second application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income.[3] The record isn't clear about when Robinson last worked, but it may have been in December 2008 when he says he turned his paper route over to his daughter.[4] Robinson bases disability on migraine headaches, poor vision, black-out spells, high blood pressure, arthritis, and pancreatitis.[5] He also complains about hand pain and bad nerves.[6] Because Robinson's first application was denied on December 21, 2010, [7] this case considers whether Robinson has been disabled since December 22, 2010.[8]

The Commissioner's decision. After considering the application, the Commissioner's ALJ determined Robinson has severe impairments - lumbar degenerative disc disease with end plate irregularity, mild osteopenia, congenital bony canal stenosis in the lower spine, and early changes of lumbar spondylosis; avascular necrosis involving bilateral femoral heads, right greater than left; hypertension; syncope of unknown etiology; pancreatitis (recurrent); and borderline intellectual functioning[9] - but he can do some medium work.[10] Because a vocational expert identified available work for a person with Robinson's limitations, [11] the ALJ determined Robinson is not disabled and denied the application.[12]

After the Commissioner's Appeals Council denied a request for review, [13] the ALJ's decision became a final decision for judicial review.[14] Robinson filed this case to challenge the decision.[15] In reviewing the decision, the court must determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision and whether the ALJ made a legal error.[16] This recommendation explains why substantial evidence supports the decision and why the ALJ made no legal error.

Robinson's allegations. Robinson challenges the determination that he can do some medium work. He contends he can't work because he is confined to a wheelchair and requires a hip replacement. He claims he meets listing 1.02 due to avascular necrosis of femoral heads. He maintains the record doesn't clearly show that the Appeals Council considered his new evidence. For these reasons, he maintains substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision.

Applicable legal principles. "Medium work involves lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. If someone can do medium work, [he] can also do sedentary and light work."[17] In this case, the ALJ added the following limitations: (1) no unprotected heights, moving or dangerous machinery, or driving - based on Robinson's reports of occasional black-outs due to elevated blood pressure; and (2) unskilled work where interpersonal contact is incidental to work performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, involves few variables, requires little independent judgment, and the supervision required is simple, direct and concrete - based on borderline intellectual functioning.[18] The question before the court is whether a reasonable mind would accept the evidence as adequate to show Robinson can do medium work with these limitations.[19]

Robinson's argument about why he can't work turns on evidence he submitted after the ALJ issued the unfavorable decision. When the ALJ issued the opinion, the record consisted of very little medical evidence; it contained nothing preventing medium work. At that point, the record established the following:

1. History of pancreatitis, due to alcohol abuse. The evidence of pancreatitis preceded the application and thus has little bearing on Robinson's claim.[20] There is no evidence of treatment of pancreatitis or complications during the relevant time period.
2. Correctable vision. A vision exam documents poor vision and recommends corrective lenses.[21] This evidence has little bearing on Robinson's claim because the recommendation for corrective lenses shows Robinson's vision can be improved with treatment. "An impairment which can be controlled by treatment or medication is not considered disabling."[22]
3. Degenerative changes in the lumbar spine. Diagnostic imaging of the lumbar spine shows mild osteopenia, congenital bony canal stenosis, and early changes of lumbar spondylosis.[23] Osteopenia, or low bone density, increases the risk for bone fracture, but it can be treated with calcium, vitamin D, and reducing risk factors like alcohol consumption and tobacco use. The descriptor "mild" suggests no disabling limitation.
Canal stenosis refers to a narrow spinal canal that can cause low back pain from compression of the spinal nerve cord. Because Robinson's condition is "congenital, " it has existed since birth. Robinson did heavy work with that condition. The medical evidence does not indicate the condition limits Robinson's ability to work.
Spondylosis refers to degenerative changes like bone spurs and degenerating intervertebral discs; it's often called osteoarthritis. The characterization "early" equates to mild spondylosis. Mild ...

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