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Bryant v. Colvin

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 29, 2017

Charles Bryant Plaintiff- Appellant
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: April 6, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Jonesboro

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge, and FENNER, [1] District Judge.


         Charles Bryant appeals the decision of the district court[2] affirming the decision of the Commissioner to uphold the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) denial of his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under the Social Security Act. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

         I. Background

         Bryant applied for DIB and SSI benefits alleging a disability onset of May 25, 2012, due to a left leg injury, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. The ALJ denied his application.

         Chronologically, Bryant's left leg history is as follows. On May 25, 2012, Bryant, at 61 years of age, was involved in a motorcycle accident resulting in a severely comminuted, closed, left tibia/fibula fracture for which he underwent immediate intramedullary nailing without complications. Bryant was released by his orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Roy E. Cooper, to "resume full work activities" on February 12, 2013-almost nine months after the left leg surgery. At that time, Bryant reported that he was getting better, but complained that he still had some swelling in the leg. Bryant went back to work for one and one-half months, but according to Bryant, he "had to retire because [his] leg was swelling up too much and [he] could hardly walk." He did not seek medical attention to address these complaints or try to find another job. So, in May 2013, Bryant retired at the age of 62.

         After retirement, Bryant lost his health insurance and waited several months for Medicare to start before seeking further treatment of his left leg. In January 2014, Dr. Cooper said that the x-rays of his tibia/fibula fracture showed "complete fracture union with excellent appearance of the hardware." The cross-locking screws were removed from his tibial nail in May 2014 because they were causing him some discomfort in the area of the screw heads. The following month, Bryant's primary doctor, Dr. Michael Tedder, described his gait and range of motion as within normal limits while also noting "normal flexibility" and a "normal straight leg raise." On July 28, 2014, Bryant reported that he was "very happy and . . . is walking better and doing better." Dr. Cooper again released him to "normal activities" at that time.

         For twenty years, Bryant had a history of gout attacks which were treated intermittently with allopurinol and decadron. His good work history indicates that these gout attacks did not cause him to miss work generally. Some of these attacks occurred while he was recovering from the motorcycle accident. One such attack involved his left ankle and was treated by Dr. Tedder by restarting the allopurinol and decadron on October 19, 2012; no work restrictions were placed on him by Dr. Tedder. Another gout attack affecting his ankles and left great toe was treated by Dr. Tedder in January 2013 with the same medications and without any work restrictions mentioned.

         Bryant has a maternal history of rheumatoid arthritis, but evidence is lacking that he has the disorder. His rheumatoid factor was negative on October 19, 2012, and the doctor did not include rheumatoid arthritis as a diagnosis in the subsequent visits. Bryant later claimed the classification as "rheumatoid" was a "layman's misunderstanding, " and pointed to x-rays in December 2011 showing some degenerative changes in his right knee and a CT scan in May 2012 showing some degenerative changes in his neck. However, the record does not indicate that the doctors considered these issues disabling, or that they were even actively being treated at all.

         Bryant had other complaints which were considered, along with the ones listed on his application. For example, he was treated for cataracts and diabetes mellitus type II.

         After reviewing the record and after conducting a hearing (on February 19, 2014) including testimony by Bryant and a vocational expert cross-examined by Bryant's counsel, the ALJ determined that Bryant "is not disabled under . . . the Social Security Act, " and therefore, DIB and SSI benefits were denied.

         The parties consented in writing to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. The Magistrate Judge affirmed the ALJ's decision, finding "substantial evidence" to support the conclusion that Bryant was not ...

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