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Willyerd v. Colvin

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

January 23, 2017

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


         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff Benny Willyerd applied for disability benefits on March 26, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of October 21, 2008.[1] (Tr. at 35) After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied his application. (Tr. at 44) The Appeals Council denied his request for review. (Tr. at 1) The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Mr. Willyerd filed this case seeking judicial review. The parties have filed their briefs and the case is ripe for decision.[2]

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Mr. Willyerd had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his last denial of benefits on June 7, 2011. (TR. at 37) At Step Two, the ALJ found that Mr. Willyerd has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, and limited vision. (Tr. at 38)

         After finding that Mr. Willyerd's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 38), the ALJ determined that Mr. Willyerd had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, except that he could not perform work that requires the climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, with no more than occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; he could only occasionally balance, kneel, crouch, or crawl; he could not perform work that would expose him to unprotected heights; he could perform work requiring no more than frequent fingering and handling; and he could perform work only where excellent vision is not required. (Tr. at 39)

         The ALJ found that Mr. Willyerd could not perform his past relevant work. (Tr. at 42) At Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find that, based on Mr. Willyerd's age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform at the light level, specifically, janitor/cleaner and cafeteria attendant. (Tr. at 43) Based on that Step Five determination, the ALJ found that Mr. Willyerd was not disabled. (Tr. at 44)

         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). Stated another way, 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. Mr. Willyerd's Argument on Appeal

         Mr. Willyerd argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's RFC finding because the ALJ's credibility analysis was flawed. Specifically, he argues that the ALJ should have included a sit-stand option based on the statement of a consultative examiner, Dr. Mark Tait, M.D., that Mr. Willyerd “would require periods of sitting throughout the day.” (Docket entry #14 at 12, Tr. at 296). Mr. Willyerd speculates that this means he could not stand or walk for six hours in a normal workday, and therefore, could not perform work at the light level.

         A claimant's RFC represents the most he can do despite the combined effects of all of his credible limitations, and it must be based on all credible evidence. McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). The ALJ considered the record as a whole in arriving at the appropriate RFC.

         The medical evidence reveals that Mr. Willyerd had degenerative disc disease at multiple levels in the lumbar spine. (Tr. at 284, 287, 312-313, 348) His treating doctors and the state agency consultative doctors agreed on that diagnosis. (Tr. at 71, 82) Straight leg raises, however, were negative on March 19, 2012 and May 4, 2013 (Tr. at 280, 295) Dr. Tait found, in a May 4, 2013 examination, that Mr. Willyerd could rise from a sitting position without assistance, bend and squat without difficulty, and that he had a full range of motion in his spine. (Tr. at 295) He could tandem walk without problems and could walk without an assistive device. Id. At that examination, Mr. Willyerd denied low back pain and said he was independent in activities of daily living. (Tr. at 294) Imaging of the lumbar spine showed good alignment, normal vertebral height, disc space within normal limits, and only mild-to-moderate degenerative disc disease. Objective tests showing mild-to-moderate conditions do not support a finding of disability. Masterson v. Banrhart, 363 F.3d 731, 738-39 (8th Cir. 2004).

         The non-examining medical experts indicated that Mr. Willyerd could perform medium work. (Tr. at 71, 83). Additionally, a functional capacity examination completed on November 24, 2009, showed that Mr. Willyerd could perform medium work with occasional lifting in the heavy classification. (Tr. at 369). The ALJ gave these opinions some weight, but restricted Mr. ...

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