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Spencer v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division

July 17, 2017

JAMES DALE SPENCER PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In light of the Court's review of the medical records, it appears that the implantation of Spencer's ICD improved his cardiac symptoms to such an extent that he thereafterfailed to meet the required level of severity for chronic heart failure, as described in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I, Listings 4.01-4.04. Moreover, his symptoms failed to meet Listing 4.05, for "recurrent arrhythmias, " as his arrhythmia was brought under control after the ICD was implanted. Therefore, the ALJ did not err in finding that Spencer's cardiac issues failed to meet the Listing needed to qualify for benefits, and the first objection to the R&R is overruled.

         Currently before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") (Doc. 23) of the Honorable Erin L. Wiedemann, United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Arkansas, filed in this case on June 21, 2017, regarding Plaintiff James Dale Spencer's request for judicial review of the decision to deny his claim for disability and disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits under the provisions of Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act.

         The Magistrate Judge recommends affirming the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") determination that Spencer is not entitled to benefits. On July 5, 2017, Spencer's attorney filed timely Objections (Doc. 24) to the R&R. Spencer argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that substantial evidence existed to deny the claim for benefits. Specifically, Spencer contends that: (1) his cardiac issues met or equaled the level of severity needed to qualify for benefits, as per the Listing of Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I; (2) the Magistrate Judge and the ALJ both failed to consider the testimony of Spencer's wife; (3) no substantial evidence exists to support a finding that Spencer can work, due to the combination of fatigue, heart problems, gout, deep vein thrombosis in his leg, polycythemia vera, anxiety, and depression; and (4) the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") determined by the ALJ is incorrect, in part because Spencer would miss too much work, due to his medical issues, to maintain substantial gainful employment.

         In light of Spencer's Objections, the Court has undertaken a de novo review of the record, and, after doing so, finds that the Objections offer neither law nor fact justifying deviation from the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. Accordingly, the R&R will be ADOPTED IN ITS ENTIRETY.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         In reviewing the decision of the ALJ, the Court must determine whether substantial evidence in the administrative record supports the decision, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion." Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000). Such evidence is "less than a preponderance but enough so that a reasonable mind could find it adequate to support the decision." Edwardsv. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003). As long as there is substantial evidence in the record that supports the Commissioner's decision, the Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence exists in the record that could have supported a contrary outcome, or because the Court could have decided the case differently. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). In other words, "[i]f after reviewing the record, the court finds it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the ALJ's findings, the court must affirm the ALJ's decision." Goffv. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001)).

         II. SPENCER'S OBJECTIONS

         A. First Objection: Requisite Level of Severity for Cardiac Issues

         The first objection is that the ALJ incorrectly determined that Spencer's cardiac issues failed to meet or equal the level of severity needed to qualify for benefits, as per the Listing of Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I, Listings 4.01-4.05. Listing 4.01-4.02 of the applicable regulation states that "[t]he required level of severity for [chronic heart failure] is met when the requirements in both A and B are satisfied." Subpart A requires the medically documented presence of either "[s]ystolic failure . . . with .... ejection fraction of 30 percent or less during a period of stability ... or [d]iastolic failure . .. with ... an enlarged left atrium greater than or equal to 4.5 cm, with normal or elevated ejection fraction during a period of stability" Subpart B requires the presence of one of the following:

1. Persistent symptoms of heart failure which very seriously limit the ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities of daily living in an individual for whom an MC, preferably one experienced in the care of patients with cardiovascular disease, has concluded that the performance of an exercise test would present a significant risk to the individual; or

2. Three or more separate episodes of acute congestive heart failure within a consecutive 12-month period (see 4.00A3e), with evidence of fluid retention (see 4.00D2b(ii)) from clinical and imaging assessments at the time of the episodes, requiring acute extended physician intervention such as hospitalization or emergency room treatment for 12 hours or more, separated by periods of stabilization (see 4.00D4c); or

3. Inability to perform on an exercise tolerance test at a workload equivalent to 5 METs or less due to:

a. Dyspnea, fatigue, palpitations, or chest discomfort; or

b. Three or more consecutive premature ventricular contractions (ventricular tachycardia), or increasing frequency of ventricular ectopy with at least 6 premature ventricular contractions per minute; or

c. Decrease of 10 mm Hg or more in systolic pressure below the baseline systolic blood pressure or the preceding systolic pressure measured during exercise (see 4.00D4d) due to left ventricular dysfunction, despite an increase in workload; or

d. Signs attributable to inadequate cerebral perfusion, such as ataxic gait or mental confusion.

20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, § 4.04.

         The Court has reviewed the medical records submitted in this case and agrees with the ALJ and the Magistrate Judge that Spencer's cardiac condition, consisting of right ventricularenlargement, atrial fibrillation, significant left ventricular systolic dysfunction, and an ejection fraction of 35-40 percent, was well-documented prior to 2008. However, sometime in 2008, his doctors recommended that he undergo surgery to install an implantable cardioverter defibrillator ("ICD") in his chest to manage his arrhythmia. The device was implanted on June 9, 2008. Thereafter, his medical reports consistently indicate that Spencer reported he no longer suffered from palpitations, syncope, presyncope, fatigue, chest pain, dyspnea, or edema. After his surgery, he failed to present any persistent symptoms of heart failure that seriously limited his ability to independently initiate, sustain, or ...


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