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Thorn v. Berryhill

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

June 6, 2017

TOMMY THORN PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Tommy Thorn, applied for disability benefits on March 22, 2014, alleging an onset date of January 1, 2013. (Tr. at 9). His claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denied Thorn's application. (Tr. at 9-22). The Appeals Council denied his request for review. (Tr. at 1). Thus, the ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Thorn has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court reverses the ALJ's decision and remands for further review.[2]

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Thorn had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of January 1, 2013. (Tr. at 11). At Step Two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Thorn has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbosacral spine, status post cervical spinal fusion, history of colon resection and hernia repair, and obesity. Id.

         After finding that Thorn's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 14), the ALJ determined that Thorn had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work with the following limitations: 1) he could perform only occasional climbing, stooping, crouching, kneeling, and crawling; 2) he could not work in unrestricted heights, such as ladders or scaffolding 3) in an eight-hour workday, he could sit six to eight hours, from one to two hours without interruption; and 4) he could stand and walk no more than two hours. (Tr. at 15). The ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert to find that, based on Thorn's age, education, work experience and RFC, he could perform past relevant work as a quality-control inspector. (Tr. at 21). Based on that determination, the ALJ held that Thorn was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review The Court's function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether it is based on legal error. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). While “substantial evidence” is that which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, “substantial evidence on the record as a whole” requires a court to engage in a more scrutinizing analysis:

“[O]ur review is more than an examination of the record for the existence of substantial evidence in support of the Commissioner's decision; we also take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from that decision.” Reversal is not warranted, however, “merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.”

Reed v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).

         B. Thorn's Arguments on Appeal

         Thorn argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. He contends that the ALJ erred: (1) in relying on the opinion of Roger Troxel, M.D.; (2) in failing to include in the RFC a sitting and overhead reaching limitation; and (3) in his credibility analysis, which labeled Thorn's treatment as conservative. The Court concludes that, based on several errors committed by the ALJ, his decision was not supported by substantial evidence.

         First, it appears the ALJ did not properly assess Thorn's repeatedly elevated blood pressure. The ALJ briefly reviewed the evidence related to high blood pressure, and concluded that the record did not establish that hypertension significantly limited Thorn's ability to perform basic work activities. The ALJ's review of the pertinent evidence relating to high blood pressure was incomplete.

         On October 1, 2013, Thorn presented to East Arkansas Family Health Center, Inc., because his blood pressure medication was not working. (Tr. at 296). Thorn's blood pressure that day was 184/110. Id. He indicated that he had been keeping a daily log of his blood pressure and it was consistently higher than 160/80. Id. ...


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