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Owen v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Pine Bluff Division

July 6, 2016

Michael Anthony Owen, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          Michael Anthony Owen, Plaintiff, represented by Conrad Thomas Odom, Odom Law Firm, P.A..

          Social Security Administration, Defendant, represented by Brock C. Cima, Social Security Administration, Jonathan R. Clark, Social Security Administration & Stacey Elise McCord, U.S. Attorney's Office.


          J. THOMAS RAY, Magistrate Judge.


         The following recommended disposition was prepared for U.S. District Judge James M. Moody, Jr. A party to this dispute may file 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] The objecting party must serve the opposing party with a copy of an objection. Failing to object within 14 days waives the right to appeal questions of fact.[2] If no objections are filed, Judge Moody may adopt the recommended disposition without independently reviewing all of the record evidence.

         Reasoning for Recommended Disposition

         Michael Anthony Owen seeks judicial review of the denial of his application for supplemental security income (SSI).[3] Owen last worked as a floor waxer.[4] His employer, which reimbursed him for the gas cost of his daily commute from his home in Huntsville, Arkansas, to where he worked in Farmington, Arkansas, eventually had to terminate him due to rising gasoline prices.[5] He based disability on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), back and shoulder problems, intestinal problems, and staph infection.[6]

         The Commissioner's decision. Owen alleged disability beginning September 2007 when he lost his floor-waxer job, but the earliest date he could receive SSI was September 26, 2012 when he applied.[7] As a result, the ALJ considered whether Owen was disabled beginning on that date.

         The ALJ identified emphysema, anxiety, and depression as severe impairments.[8] The ALJ determined Owen can do some unskilled light work.[9] After consulting a vocational expert, the ALJ determined jobs exist that Owen can do and denied the application.[10]

         After the Appeals Council denied review, [11] the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision for the purpose of judicial review.[12] Owen filed this case to challenge the decision.[13] In reviewing the decision, the court must determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision and whether the ALJ made a legal error.[14] This recommendation explains why the court should affirm the decision.

         Owen's allegations. Owen challenges several aspects of the ALJ's decision: (1) he contends the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record, (2) he claims the ALJ failed to consider his impairments in combination, (3) he challenges the evaluation of his credibility, and (4) he contends he cannot do light work. For these reasons, he maintains substantial evidence does not support the decision.[15]

         Applicable legal principles. For substantial evidence to exist, a reasonable mind must accept the evidence as adequate to show Owen can do some light unskilled work.[16] "Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds."[17] The ALJ placed the following requirements on light work:

(1) no concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants; and
(2) simple, routine, repetitive tasks involving incidental interpersonal contact and simple, direct, concrete supervision.[18]

         The first requirement flowed from emphysema; the second requirement, from mental impairment. A reasonable mind will accept the evidence as adequate to support the decision for the following reasons:

1. Medical evidence establishes no disabling impairment. A claimant must prove disability with medical evidence; his subjective allegations are not enough to prove disability.[19] The medical evidence shows Owen sought treatment for complaints of abdominal pain, [20] but diagnostic testing showed no cause for pain.[21]
Diagnostic imaging showed mild hyper-expansion of the lungs; the finding is consistent with emphysema.[22] The descriptor "mild" suggested no disabling symptoms.
Before applying for SSI, Owen was treated for a staph infection; the treating doctor drained a boil on a forearm and prescribed antibiotics.[23] Owen strained his back lifting a vehicle engine.[24] That's all the medical evidence showed. Even considered in combination, the evidence showed nothing preventing light work. According to Owen, he can lift 50 pounds;[25] that's more than light work requires.
2. The record contained sufficient evidence to determine whether Owen was disabled. Owen complains because the ALJ didn't order a consultative physical exam. However, such an examination is only required if treatment records do not provide sufficient medical evidence to determine whether the claimant is disabled.[26] The ALJ must fairly and fully develop the record as to the matters at issue.[27]
The record addressed the matters at issue: COPD, back and shoulder problems, intestinal problems, and staph infection. COPD: diagnostic imaging showed mild hyper-expansion of the lungs. Back and shoulder problems: diagnostic imaging showed mild compression deformities at level T9 and T10 in the mid-spine;[28] a primary care provider found tenderness on both sides of the mid-back.[29] Treatment records reflect no complaints of shoulder pain. Intestinal problems: diagnostic testing provided no ...

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