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Howe v. Berryhill

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

March 14, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT




         The following Recommended Disposition (“Recommendation”) has been sent to United States District Judge J. Leon Holmes. You may file written objections to all or part of this Recommendation. If you do so, those objections must: (1) specifically explain the factual and/or legal basis for your objection; and (2) be received by the Clerk of this Court within fourteen (14) days of this Recommendation. By not objecting, you may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.


         Joyce Howe applied for social security disability benefits with an alleged disability onset date of January 1, 1990. (R. at 116). She filed her application on March 14, 2012. (R. at 116). After a hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) denied benefits. (R. at 23). The Appeals Council denied her request for review . (R. at 1). The ALJ's decision thus stands as the Commissioner's final decision, and Howe has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the magistrate judge recommends affirming the Commissioner's decision.

         I. The Commissioner's Decision

         The ALJ found that Howe had the severe impairments of mild degenerative disk disease, anxiety disorder NOS, and pain disorder associated with both medical and psychological factors. (R. at 13). The ALJ noted that there was a lack of clinical evidence to support the diagnoses of hepatitis C, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia, and so determined that these were neither severe nor medically determinable impairments. (R. at 13). The ALJ determined that Howe's impairments left her with the residual functional capacity (RFC) to lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk two hours, with a cane, in an eight-hour workday; sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday with the option to alternate sitting and standing for intervals of 15 minutes; push and/or pull 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; understand, remember, and carry out simple job instructions; make judgments in simple work-related situations; respond appropriately to coworkers/supervisors with occasional incidental contact that is not necessary to perform the work; and respond appropriately to minor changes in usual work routine. (R. at 15-16). Howe had no past relevant work. (R. at 21). The ALJ questioned a vocational expert, who indicated that a person of Howe's age, education, work experience, and RFC could perform jobs such as document preparer or table worker. (R. at 22). The ALJ therefore held that Howe was not disabled. (R. at 22-23).

         II. Summary of Medical Evidence

         Howe was born on April 15, 1971. (R. at 116). She has no significant work history. (R. at 122-25).

         Medical evidence shows that she complained of severe joint pain and stiffness as far back as 2006 to Anna Redman, M.D. (R. at 512). This evidence was not presented to the ALJ but was presented to the Appeals Council. (R. at 5).

         Howe has seen her primary care physician, Paul W. Davis, M.D., since at least 2011. (R. at 236). Dr. Davis noted a history of hepatitis C, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, generalized anxiety disorder, and hypothyroidism on November 30, 2011. (R. at 237). On December 12, 2011, Dr. Davis noted that Howe had used a month's supply of Xanax and Hydrocodone in two weeks and that he was considering letting her go as a patient. (R. at 236). On December 19, 2011, he noted that there had been a misunderstanding and that Howe could continue as his patient. (R. at 235). Dr. Davis prescribed Percocet on February 1, 2012 when Howe presented with severe pain in her left leg after a fall. (R. at 235). Dr. Davis refused to refill the Percocet on February 13, 2012 when Howe said that she had once again hurt her leg. (R. at 336).

         Howe presented to the emergency room at Jefferson Regional Medical Center on March 15, 2012, complaining of chest pains and a possible stomach infection. (R. at 288). The record reflects that Howe had misused cocaine, crack, and methamphetamine in the past but had quit. (R. at 289). She demonstrated normal strength and range of motion. (R. at 289). She was diagnosed with constipation and chest wall pain. (R. at 291). She presented crying and emotionally labile on April 12, 2012, and Dr. Davis noted that labs were pending. (R. at 335). After Howe called in crying on April 23, 2012, Dr. Davis suggested Zoloft. (R. at 335). On May 16, 2012, Howe called Dr. Davis about a fall she suffered the day before, complaining of a problem with her hand and a wrist injury. (R. at 334). She visited Dr. Davis the next day, and he noted contusions on her legs and that she stated she could not afford the Zoloft he had previously prescribed. (R. at 334). On July 18, 2012, Howe asked to see a pain doctor due to worsening pain and reported that her rheumatologist could not help her because of her hepatitis. (R. at 332).

         Howe visited the emergency room of Jefferson Regional Medical Center on August 5, 2012 with complaints of chest pain. (R. at 257). She was diagnosed with back pain and dysmenorrhea. (R. at 259). She presented again on ...

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