United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Debra Lynn, on behalf of her late father Kerry Dale Lynn
(“Lynn”), began this case by filing a complaint
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g). In the complaint, plaintiff
challenged the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”), a decision based upon findings
made by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
maintains that the ALJ's findings are not supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole and offers two
reasons why. Plaintiff first maintains that Lynn's
residual functional capacity was erroneously assessed.
Plaintiff so maintains because the record does not contain a
physical residual functional capacity assessment from a
treating or examining physician, Lynn's morbid obesity
was not adequately considered, and there is no evidence he
could sit for long periods.
is required to assess the claimant's residual functional
capacity, which is a determination of “the most a
person can do despite that person's limitations.”
See Brown v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 535, 538-39
(8th Cir. 2004). The assessment is made using all
of the relevant evidence in the record, but the assessment
must be supported by some medical evidence. See Wildman
v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959 (8th Cir. 2010). As a
part of making the assessment, the ALJ must evaluate the
claimant's subjective complaints. See Pearsall v.
Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211 (8th Cir. 2001). The
ALJ does so by considering the medical evidence and evidence
of the claimant's daily activities; the duration,
frequency, and intensity of his pain; the dosage and
effectiveness of his medication; precipitating and
aggravating factors; and functional restrictions. See
Id. at 1218 [citing Polaski v. Heckler, 739
F.2d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984)].
alleged in his application for disability insurance benefits
that he became disabled on September 30, 2009. Although that
date would typically denote the beginning of the relevant
period, the ALJ found the following:
Claimant's alleged onset date is September 30, 2009.
However, claimant has filed prior applications. The claimant
filed a prior application that resulted in an unfavorable
decision before an administrative law judge on September 27,
2013. There is no basis to reopen the prior application and
administrative finality applies through September 27, 2013.
Accordingly, any discussion of the evidence prior to that
time is for historical and contextual purposes only and does
not constitute reopening.
See Transcript at 21. Plaintiff does not challenge
the finding, and it is supported by substantial evidence on
the record as a whole. Thus, the relevant period is from
September 28, 2013, through November 12, 2015, i.e.,
the date of the ALJ's decision. Evidence prior to
September 28, 2013, will only be considered for historical
has ably summarized the evidence in the record, see
Document 19 at CM/ECF 3-17, and the Commissioner does not
challenge the summary. The Court accepts the summary as a
fair summation of the evidence. The summary will not be
reproduced, save to note evidence germane to Lynn's
morbid obesity and his ability to sit for long periods as
those issues form the basis of plaintiff's challenge to
the ALJ's assessment.
November 2, 2009, an MRI was taken of Lynn's cervical
spine. See Transcript at 326-328. The results
revealed mild degenerative disc changes in his cervical spine
but no significant central canal narrowing. When Dr. Jeremy
Swymn, M.D., (“Swymn”) saw Lynn one week later,
Swymn observed that the MRI showed no nerve impingement.
See Transcript at 330.
sought medical attention on several occasions between
September 2, 2009, and September 28, 2013, for complaints
that included chest pain, shortness of breath, and pain and
swelling in his lower extremities. See Transcript at
684-686, 688-690, 650-652, 642-646, 627-632, 615-620,
572-580, 581-583, 558-567, 543-552, 526-536, 892-293,
522-523, 507-515, 491-498, 436-446, 407-413, 404-405,
387-388. For instance, on March 19, 2010, he presented to a
hospital complaining of pain and swelling in his lower
extremities. See Transcript at 684-690. A history of
Meniere's disease was noted, and he was diagnosed with
leg edema and venous insufficiency. In August of 2012, he
presented to the hospital complaining of chest pain and
shortness of breath. The results of an EKG were normal, his
troponins were negative, and a chest x-ray was unremarkable.
See Transcript at 412. Obstructive sleep apnea
syndrome was later diagnosed, and use of a CPAP was
September 28, 2013, the record reflects that Lynn continued
to seek medical attention for complaints that included chest
pain and shortness of breath. Lynn saw Dr. John House, M.D.,
(“House”) on January 16, 2014, for other
impairments. See Transcript at 337-341, 770-774.
While in the examination room, Lynn experienced a syncopal
event. Lynn was transported to a local hospital and admitted
for the syncope event and abdominal pain. He was released
later that same day after test results were within normal
limits. See Transcript at 344.
saw Lynn again on January 22, 2014. See Transcript
at 766-770. House's progress notes contain the following
... [Lynn] was seen here last week and had syncopal event.
Was sent to the ER by ambulance. Was admitted for
“severe dehydration.” Notes that they did
ultrasound of heart, neck, and legs. No blood clots. Had two
EKGs which were normal. Says that they did CT of head, neck,
and low back. The only finding was chronic sinusitis. Says
that they stopped lasix and spironolactone. Also stopped
metformin due to CT. Has restarted metformin.
See Transcript at 768.
continued to see House or his associates throughout 2014.
See Transcript at 762-766 (03/11/2014), 759-762
(04/23/2014), 755-759 (05/22/2014), 751-755 (06/17/2014),
747-751 (07/31/2014), 743-747 (09/30/2014). The progress
notes from the examinations are routine. For instance, when
Lynn presented on May 22, 2014, he reported that he had been
exercising but was sore from “trying to lift light
weight.” See Transcript 757. Upon examination,
he exhibited normal tone and motor strength and exhibited