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France v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

November 15, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Plaintiff, Rebecca Ilene France, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) under the provisions of Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). In this judicial review, the Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g).

         I. Procedural Background:

         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB on July 7, 2014, and she also filed an application for SSI on July 8, 2014. Plaintiff originally alleged her disability began May 15, 2008, but she later amended the alleged onset date of disability to July 1, 2013. (Tr. 271). She alleged disability due to irritable bowel syndrome (with daily frequent bouts of diarrhea), claustrophobia, seizure disorder, arthritis of the hip, vertigo, peripheral arterial disease, osteoarthritis of the back, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), severe ulcer, morbid obesity, borderline diabetes, multiple allergy problems, allergy induced asthma, double vision in right eye, Bell's palsy, and vertigo. (Tr. 209, 272). An administrative hearing was held on June 22, 2015, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 30-76).

         By written decision dated September 24, 2015, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr. 16). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: asthma, disorder of the back, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), headaches, obesity, and vertigo. (Tr. 16). However, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 16). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that she is able to occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl but she must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants such as dust, odors and gases; she must also avoid exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and moving machinery.

(Tr. 17). With the help of the vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff would be able to perform her past relevant work as a certified medication technician and riveting machine operator. (Tr. 21-22).

         Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied that request on September 22, 2016. (Tr. 1-6). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is before the undersigned for report and recommendation. (Docs. 13, 14).

         II. Evidence Presented:

         At the time of the administrative hearing held on June 22, 2015, Plaintiff was fifty-one years of age and had obtained an associate's degree in business management. (Tr. 33). Plaintiff's past relevant work consists of work as a certified nursing assistant, certified medication technician, and riveting machine operator. (Tr. 72).

         A review of the pertinent medical evidence reflects the following. Plaintiff went to the emergency department of the West Valley Medical Center on numerous occasions for medical care. On June 4, 2008, Plaintiff complained of abdominal pain. (Tr. 316). An electrocardiogram (EKG) was unremarkable. (Tr. 317). Dr. John Mullins diagnosed her with abdominal pain and ordered an ultrasound. (Tr. 314-323). The abdominal ultrasound revealed that the liver was heterogeneous, echogenic, and attenuating probably due to fatty liver, but could also be cirrhosis, with borderline hepatomegaly. (Tr. 322).

         On November 7, 2008, she reported having flank and chest pain. (Tr. 327). A chest X-ray showed no acute disease. (Tr. 331). Also, a computed tomography pulmonary angiogram (CTPA) of her chest revealed no pulmonary emboli and her lungs were clear, but there was mild hepatic steatosis and mild thoracic disc degeneration. (Tr. 332-333).

         On May 6, 2009, Plaintiff was diagnosed with peptic ulcer disease. (Tr. 338-342). On June 4, 2009, she complained of asthma symptoms, and she was diagnosed with acute asthma exacerbation. (Tr. 343-348). On May 5, 2010, she was diagnosed with paronychia of the right great toe. (Tr. 349-353). On June 17, 2011, Plaintiff was diagnosed with lymphadenitis and a possible dental abscess. (Tr. 354-359). On July 2011, she was again diagnosed with chest wall pain. Dr. Eric Elliot did not order an EKG because he found a noncardiac etiology was evident, and he also doubted it was pneumonia or pneumothorax. (Tr. 360-364). Plaintiff was prescribed Prilosec and Toradol. (Tr. 364). On September 7, 2011, she complained of weakness and paresthesia. (Tr. 298). An EKG, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain and chest X-ray showed no acute problems. (Tr. 299). She was ultimately diagnosed with paresthesia. (Tr. 301).

         On March 16, 2012, Plaintiff established care with Dr. Joe Llenos as her primary care physician, and she reported to him a history of allergy induced asthma. (Tr. 374-375). Three days later, Plaintiff returned for blood work, and she was diagnosed with asthma and obesity. (Tr. 372-373, 378-379). During the follow-up visit on March 26, 2012, Plaintiff reported her breathing improved with Albuterol, but she was using it daily. (Tr. 370). Dr. Llenos prescribed her Fluticasone Propionate HFA and instructed her to follow-up in six months. (Tr. 370). On July 17, 2012, Plaintiff reported a back injury with pain that radiated to her neck and triggered vertigo. (Tr. 367). She reported previously having a work-related back ...

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