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Beasley v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

September 22, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT


         Plaintiff Stacey Renee Beasley (“Beasley”), in her appeal of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (defendant “Colvin”) to deny her claim for Disability Insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI), contends the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by: (1) failing to adequately develop the record regarding her intellectual functioning; (2) incorrectly determining her residual functional capacity (“RFC”); and (3) posing inadequate hypothetical questions to the vocational expert. The parties have ably summarized the medical records and the testimony given at the administrative hearing conducted on April 7, 2014. (Tr. 59-80). The Court has carefully reviewed the record to determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support Colvin's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Administrative hearing: At the outset of the administrative hearing, Armstrong testified she was 23 years old, with a ninth grade education which included special education reading classes. She stated she left school because of leg and back pain, and an inability to read with comprehension. Beasley indicated she attempted and failed to obtain a GED. She testified to being able to do basic math. As for work history, she stated she worked some in 2008 and tried to get a job at a local gas station. According to her testimony, she has a driver's license. She takes thyroid medicine and cholesterol pills, and has no side effects. Beasley conceded that she failed to properly take her medications in the past. She was 5' 4" and weighed 392 pounds at the hearing. She described very limited daily activities, being able to sit for up to 30 minutes, stand for up to 10 minutes, and needing to recline during most of the day. She stated she would need to lay down every hour if she had a job. (Tr. 63-73).

         The ALJ posed a hypothetical question to the vocational expert, asking her to assume a worker of Beasley's age and educational level who could perform sedentary work but avoid work requiring her to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and avoid unprotected heights. Further, the ALJ asked the vocational expert to assume the worker would have the ability to perform work in a setting where interpersonal contact would be incidental to the work performed, the complexity of one to two-step tasks is learned and performed by rote, with few variables, little judgment required, the supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete, and the reasoning level would not exceed one or two. The vocational expert indicated such a worker could perform the jobs of assembler or inspector. (Tr. 76-78).

         Beasley amended her alleged onset date to July 3, 2008, so the pertinent inquiry is whether she was disabled between that date and November 6, 2014, when the ALJ issued his ruling.

         Medical records during the relevant period: Beasley was seen by advanced practice nurse Debbie Wilhite (“Wilhite”) in September 2008, complaining of diarrhea and vomiting, and requesting a pregnancy test. Beasley reported not having taken her thyroid medicine “in several months.” (Tr. 330). Beasley returned to Wilhite for lab work in November 2008 and returned again in September 2009 complaining of heavy menstrual flow and cramps. Wilhite recorded Beasley had been “very non compliant with her Thyroid medication” and “continues to gain weight.” (Tr. 324).

         Later in September 2009 Beasley presented as a new patient to Dr. Lorna Layton (“Layton”) at the NEA Baptist Women's Clinic. Beasley complained of a continuous heavy menstrual flow, and reported she had not been taking her thyroid medicine. Layton diagnosed a simple cyst, stressed the need for Beasley to take her prescribed medication, recommended she continue iron supplements, and planned to see if the cyst could be resolved with hormonal suppression rather than surgery. (Tr. 342-344).

         In April 2012 Beasley was seen as a new patient by Dr. Kesha James (“James”) at the East Arkansas Family Health Center. James assessed her with suicidal ideation, hypothyroidism, pica, anxiety/depression, and menorrhagia, and referred Beasley for intervention with an in-house counselor. Beasley reported she had not been on her thyroid meds “in over 2-3 years.” (Tr. 369-370).

         The day after seeing James, Beasley saw a social worker at Mid-South Health Systems, who estimated her intelligence to be borderline although her thought processes were logical, and diagnosed her with major depressive disorder, recurrent, nondependent alcohol and cannabis abuse, and obesity. The social worker found Beasley's GAF to be 35. (Tr. 356, 359).

         In May 2012 Beasley was seen again by James, who diagnosed her with hypothyroidism, anxiety/depression, and hyperlipidemia. (Tr. 367-368).

         A psychiatric evaluation was performed by Dr. Kelly Hair (“Hair”) at Mid-South Health Systems in June 2012. Beasley reported to Hair that she left high school in the ninth grade because she was being bullied about her obesity, and that she was in regular classes and making good grades. Hair diagnosed her with major depressive disorder and nondependent alcohol and cannabis use, and wrote that borderline intellectual functioning should be ruled out. (Tr. 348-350).

         Beasley saw James on the same day she was evaluated by Hair. Beasley reported improvement after taking her thyroid and cholesterol medication, and James diagnosed her with hypothyroidism and morbid obesity. (Tr. 365-366).

         A consultative physical examination was performed in July 2012 by Dr. Jeffrey Barber (“Barber”). Barber noted Beasley weighed 391 pounds, found her to have full range of motion of her extremities and cervical and lumbar spine, was unable to perform straight leg raises due to her size, and found she could squat/arise from a squatting position with difficulty. Barber diagnosed her with morbid obesity, hypothyroidism, and depression, noting she had “severe limitations in physical condition due to weight.” (Tr. 376-380). An x-ray of Beasley's spine performed on the date of Barber's examination was normal. (Tr. 387).

         Beasley, complaining of breathing problems, was seen by Dr. Holli Banks-Giles in November 2012 at the East Arkansas Family Health Center. Beasley reported she had been out of thyroid medicine, had been walking for exercise, and had lost 22 pounds. She was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, dyspnea, anemia, dysuria, and morbid obesity. She was sent to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with anemia. (Tr. 360-364, 389-391).

         When seen for a checkup at the Great River Charitable Clinic in February 2013, she weighed 365 pounds and reported she had an enlarged ...

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