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Huddleston v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas

December 19, 2014

Darrell Huddleston, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant.


JEROME T. KEARNEY, Magistrate Judge.

Darrell Huddleston seeks judicial review of the denial of his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI). Huddleston applied for DIB and SSI in October 2011, with an alleged onset date of September 10, 2009.[1] Huddleston last worked in September 2009 as a stain machine operator.[2] Huddleston's date last insured is December 31, 2014.[3] Huddleston bases disability on heart problems and coronary artery disease.[4]

The Commissioner's decision. The Commissioner's ALJ determined that Huddleston did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from the amended alleged onset date to the date last insured.[5] Huddleston has severe impairments - ischemic heart disease, coronary artery disease and hypertension.[6] None of Huddleston's severe impairments meet the Listings, and Huddleston can perform medium work.[7] The ALJ held that Huddleston can perform past relevant work as a stain machine operator.[8] Huddleston's application was denied.[9]

After the Commissioner's Appeals Council denied a request for review, the ALJ's decision became a final decision for judicial review.[10] Huddleston filed this case to challenge the decision. In reviewing the decision, the Court must determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision and whether the ALJ made a legal error.[11]

Huddleston's allegations. Huddleston maintains that the ALJ's denial of disability benefits should be reversed because (1) the ALJ failed to establish whether Huddleston meets the "worn-out worker" exception; (2) the ALJ erred in the credibility determination; (3) the RFC is not supported by substantial evidence; and (4) the ALJ failed to include specific limitations in the hypothetical presented to the VE. The ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and no legal error occurred.

Substantial evidence is "less than a preponderance but... enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the conclusion."[12] For substantial evidence to exist in this case, a reasonable mind must accept the evidence as adequate to support the determination that Huddleston is not disabled.[13]

Worn-out worker exception. Huddleston maintains that he meets the "worn-out worker" exception and therefore is entitled to disability. The argument is not persuasive because Huddleston does not meet the requirements of that exception.

The Social Security Regulations state that
If you have no more than a marginal education and work experience of 35 years or more during which you did only arduous unskilled physical labor, and you are not working and are no longer able to do this kind of work because of a severe impairment(s), we will consider you unable to do lighter work, and therefore, disabled.[14]

"Marginal education" is the "ability in reasoning, arithmetic, and language skills which are needed to do simple, unskilled types of jobs."[15] The Regulations "generally consider that formal schooling at a 6th grade level or less is a marginal education."[16] Huddleston testified that, although he did not graduate from high school or receive a GED, he completed twelve years of schooling.[17] Therefore, he is not marginally educated, and is not entitled to the benefits of the exception.

Credibility. Huddleston further asserts that the ALJ erred in the credibility determination because the Polaski [18] factors were not properly applied and the credibility determination is not supported by substantial evidence.

An ALJ must evaluate the claimant's credibility because subjective complaints play a role in determining the claimant's ability to work.[19] To evaluate Huddleston's credibility, the ALJ followed the required two-step process and considered the required factors under Polaski, [20] so the dispositive question is whether substantial evidence supports the credibility evaluation. The ALJ's determination that Huddleston's subjective complaints of pain and limitations were not credible to the extent that they conflict with the assigned RFC is supported by substantial evidence.

Huddleston is capable of performing wide-ranging daily activities. In the Function Report, Huddleston noted that he is able to take care of his personal needs and take his medications without a reminder.[21] Huddleston lives alone, prepares his own meals, cleans the house, does laundry, washes dishes, makes his bed, shops for groceries and mows the lawn.[22] He does not need help or encouragement to do these things.[23] Huddleston is able to go out alone, and can drive a car.[24]

The objective medical evidence also supports the ALJ's credibility determination. Huddleston has been diagnosed with hypertension, hyperlipidemia and carotid stenosis, [25] and in April 2009, he was hospitalized with chest pain.[26] The observations from his treating physicians, however, indicate that his heart impairments are not disabling. Following his 2009 hospital stay, the progress notes indicate that Huddleston had no further episodes of chest pain.[27] In a May 1, 2009, progress note, Huddleston's treating physician wrote that Huddleston was not experiencing dizziness, edema, syncope or palpitations.[28] Later that month, it was noted that Huddleston was "doing very well" and reported no pain.[29] Further, Huddleston was tolerating his medications well and denied any elevated blood pressure or headaches.[30] In April 2012, Huddleston reported to his treating physician that he experienced an episode of right side weakness, facial drooping and tingling in his right foot.[31] The physician determined that Huddleston suffered a stroke.[32] Following that incident, however, Huddleston suffered no further symptoms associated with a stroke. A ...

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