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Jones v. Berryhill

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

May 11, 2017

MALORY JONES PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION DEFENDANT

          ORDER

         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Malory Jones, applied for disability benefits on January 23, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of January 20, 2014. (Tr. at 87). After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (AALJ") denied his application. (Tr. at 96). 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 Jones has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court[1] reverses the ALJ's decision and remands for further review.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Jones had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of January 20, 2014. (Tr. at 89). The ALJ found, at Step Two of the sequential five-step analysis, that Jones had the following severe impairments: status-post laminectomy with ongoing lumbar spondylosis, obesity, and osteoarthritis. Id.

         At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Jones's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. (Tr. at 91). Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that Jones had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work except that he can lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; can stand and/or walk in 30-minute intervals for two hours in an eight-hour workday; can sit in 30-minute intervals for six hours in an eight-hour workday; can push and/or pull 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; and should avoid stooping when in a standing position. Id. Next, the ALJ found that Jones was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. at 94). Finally, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert ("VE") to find that, based on Jones's age, education, work experience and RFC, Jones was capable of performing work in the national economy. (Tr. at 95). Based on that determination, the ALJ held that Jones 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. Jones's Arguments on Appeal

         Jones argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. He contends that the ALJ afforded improper weight to the opinions of Jones's treating physician, Dr. Terry Lichtor, M.D., and that the ALJ erred in his credibility analysis. For the following reasons, the Court finds that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, and therefore, remand is proper.

         Jones had back problems that required three surgeries. Dr. Lichtor evaluated Jones on October 4, 2011 and found that he walked with a limp and had some pain on straight-leg raising. (Tr. at 394-398). An MRI indicated a small herniated disc at the L4-L5 level. Id. Dr. Lichtor performed a microdiscectomy on October 19, 2011. Id. The back pain seemed to improve but by March 2012 Jones was reporting increased pain. (Tr. at 472-474).

         Jones saw a rheumatologist for numbness and shooting pain in October 2013. (Tr. at 452-455). He said that the surgery did not fix his back pain and that medications were not helping. Id. In January 2014 Jones complained of “scalding, burning pain in his lower right leg and foot.” (Tr. at 447-450). Dr. Andrea Read, D.O., referred him to a neurosurgeon.

         Dr. Lichtor found on January 23, 2014 that Jones walked with a limp and showed mild to moderate weakness of dorsiflexion and plantarflexion on the right side with diminished pinprick sensation. (Tr. at 388). A lumbar MRI showed a large recurrent herniated disc at ¶ 4-5 on the right with severe compression of the right L5 nerve root. (Tr. at 388, 426). An MRI of the thoracic spine showed extensive degenerative changes. (Tr. at 429). Dr. Lichtor recommended a second surgery but noted that results may be guarded due to the past surgery in the same place. (Tr. at 388). On March 21, 2014, Dr. Lichtor performed ...


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