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Phelps v. Colvin

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

December 22, 2016

JAMES J. PHELPS PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION DEFENDANT

          ORDER

         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, James J. Phelps, applied for disability benefits on November 6, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of August 15, 2012. (Tr. at 10). After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied his application. (Tr. at 19). The Appeals Council denied his request for review. (Tr. at 1). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Phelps has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court[1] affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Phelps had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset date of August 15, 2012. (Tr. at 12). The ALJ found at Step Two that Phelps had the following severe impairments: osteoarthristis, degenerative disc disease, asthma, headaches, and obesity. Id. At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Phelps's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. (Tr. at 14). Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that Phelps had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the sedentary work with the following restrictions: 1) only occasional climbing of stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; 2) no climbing of ladders; 3) occasional overhead reaching; 4) must avoid concentrated exposure to dust, fumes, gases, odors, smoke, and poor ventilation; and 5) cannot work without the use of a cane. Id. Next, the ALJ found that Phelps is not capable of performing past relevant work. (Tr. at 17). At Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert ("VE") to find that, based on Phelps's age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform at the sedentary level, specifically, dispatcher and cashier I. (Tr. at 19). Based on that Step Five determination, the ALJ held that Phelps was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). “Substantial evidence” in this context means less than a preponderance but more than a scintilla. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009). In other words, it is “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.” Id. (citation omitted). The Court must consider not only evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision, but also evidence that supports a contrary outcome. The Court cannot reverse the decision, however, “merely because substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision.” Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)).

         B. Phelps's Arguments on Appeal

         Phelps argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. He contends that: 1) Phelps met listings 1.02 and 1.04; 2) the ALJ erred in assigning Phelps's RFC; and 3) the ALJ did not pose a proper hypothetical to the VE. For the following reasons, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.

         Phelps had two surgeries in 2010 to repair his left knee, including a total left knee replacement on September 15, 2010. (Tr. at 321-322, 324). At a September 28, 2010 follow-up appointment with Dr. Ron Schechter, M.D., an orthopedist at Paragould Orthopaedics, Dr. Schechter reported that Phelps was “doing fine” post-surgery and that he was making adequate progress with physical therapy on the knee. (Tr. at 307). On October 26, 2010, Phelps reported to Dr. Schechter that he was “doing better” with little to no pain, and that he was “very pleased with [the] results of surgery.” (Tr. at 305). He was walking well, with no limp. Id. Dr. Schechter noted that Phelps could return to full duty work when he was ready. Id. Phelps returned to work as a welder until August 2012 (Tr. at 210-211).

         Phelps testified that he has had multiple steroid injections in both knees, with little efficacy. (Tr. at 43). He added that he walks with a cane. Id. Phelps stated that Dr. Stacy Noel, M.D., his PCP, told him to keep his legs elevated to minimize swelling. Id. In April 2013, x-rays of Phelps's right knee and left hip were unremarkable. (Tr. at 535-537).

         On May 24, 2011, Phelps saw Dr. Tory Stallcup, M.D., at Family Practice Clinic of Paragould. (Tr. at 448). He reported that his depression was better, but that he had some “minor” issues, including anxiety and panic attacks that were increasing. Id. Dr. Stallcup prescribed buspirone for anxiety and clonazepam for sleep. I d . He recommended that Phelps seek counseling. Id. Phelps did not seek counseling.

         On July 13, 2012, Phelps saw Dr. Noel for anxiety, after he had apparently stopped taking his clonazepam. (Tr. at 427). Dr. Noel started him back on Lexapro and clonazepam, and he continued taking buspirone. Id. Phelps denied suicidal or homicidal thoughts, and said he was “resting well.” (Tr. at 428). On ...


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