United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
TIMOTHY D. WILLHITE PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
L. WIEDEMANN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Timothy D. Willhite, 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 his claims for a period of disability
and disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental
security income (SSI) benefits 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. §
protectively filed his current application for DIB on
September 11, 2014, alleging an inability to work since April
25, 2014, due to degenerative disc disease (DDD) with pain in
the lower back, no space in the vertebrae between L3-4, tiny
central disc bulge or protrusion at ¶ 7-T1 spondylotic
ridging with biforaminal spurring particularly from C5-6 and
C6-7 and to a lesser extent at ¶ 4-5 and C3-4, periodic
pain in right shoulder, anxiety, and depression. (Tr. 171,
217). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff maintained insured status
through December 31, 2016. (Tr. 14, 147). An administrative
hearing was held on July 23, 2015, at which Plaintiff
appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 28-59).
written decision dated January 20, 2016, the ALJ found that
during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment
or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr. 14).
Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following
severe impairments: hypertension, DDD of the lumbar spine at
¶ 4-5 and L5-S1, DDD of the cervical spine at ¶
3-4, C4-5 and C6-T1 and depression. (Tr. 14). 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. 14). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
the claimant is limited to work with simple tasks and simple
(Tr. 16). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff could perform work as a power
screwdriver operator, a can filling and closing machine
tender, and a labeler/stamper. (Tr. 22).
then requested a review of the hearing decision by the
Appeals Council, which denied that request on January 18,
2017. (Tr. 1-4). 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).
Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of
facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs,
and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.
time of the administrative hearing held on July 23, 2015,
Plaintiff was forty-five years of age and had obtained a
limited education at the ninth or tenth grade level. (Tr.
35). Plaintiff's past relevant work consists of work as a
forklift operator, a material handler, a tractor operator,
and a grass farmer. (Tr. 21, 201-208, 226).
review of the pertinent medical evidence reflects the
following. Plaintiff presented to the emergency department of
St. Edward Mercy Medical Center on July 12, 2004, due to a
motor vehicle accident (MVA) that occurred the week prior.
(Tr. 237-247). He reported neck and middle back pain after
being rear-ended. (Tr. 239). X-rays of his cervical and
thoracic spine were negative for any fractures. (Tr. 244).
Plaintiff was diagnosed with neck and upper back strain. (Tr.
244). Dr. Bruce Crabtree, M.D. recommended moist heat,
medicated rubs, and massage, and he prescribed Plaintiff
Flexeril and Lorcet. (Tr. 242, 245).
years later, on November 16, 2010, Plaintiff reported having
chronic pain in the lumbar spine. (Tr. 279). Plaintiff's
primary care physician, Dr. Robert Baker, D.O., found upon
exam that Plaintiff exhibited decreased range of motion,
pain, and spasm. (Tr. 279). Plaintiff was diagnosed with DDD
and was prescribed Lorcet. (Tr. 279). On July 7, 2013,
Plaintiff returned to Dr. Baker reporting chronic lumbar
spine pain. (Tr. 281). Upon exam, he again had a decreased
range of motion, pain, and spasm. (Tr. 281). Dr. Baker
diagnosed him with DDD and prescribed Lorcet and also
Robaxin. (Tr. 281). On July 17, 2013, Plaintiff reported
chronic pain and stiffness in the lumbar spine with his
symptoms aggravated by certain positions, twisting, and
bending. (Tr. 280). Dr. Baker continued the DDD diagnosis and
refilled Lorcet. (Tr. 280). On November 7, 2013, he again
reported lumbar spine pain. (Tr. 281). Dr. Baker diagnosed
the Plaintiff with DDD and refilled Lorcet and Robaxin. (Tr.
281). On February 25, 2014, Plaintiff was again diagnosed
with DDD by Dr. Baker and this time he was prescribed Norco.
medical evidence continues after the alleged onset date of
April 25, 2014. On April 29, 2014, Plaintiff presented
himself to Dr. Wallace Hays, D.C. for chiropractic care. (Tr.
342-344). He reported moderate neck, right shoulder, and
right finger pain. (Tr. 342). A cervical spine X-ray showed
misalignments at level 2-5, a thoracic spine X-ray revealed
body heights within normal limits and misalignment at level
7, and a lumbar spine X-ray showed no congenital
abnormalities. (Tr. 344). Dr. Hays projected he would need 20
treatments with an estimated duration of care to be less than
120 days. (Tr. 342).
returned to Dr. Baker on June 17, 2014, with low back pain.
(Tr. 285-286). Upon exam, his blood pressure was 133/82, and
he exhibited a decreased range of motion and pain in his
lumbar back. (Tr. 285). A lumbar spine X-ray revealed normal
alignment, the vertebral body and disc heights were well
maintained, no fractures or destructive lesions were seen,
and the impression was that there was no abnormality found.
(Tr. 278). Dr. Baker diagnosed him with DDD, hyperlipidemia,
hypertension, and male hypogonadism. (Tr. 286). Dr. Baker
refilled Norco. (Tr. 286).
September 14, 2014, Dr. Baker referred Plaintiff for a lumbar
spine magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and it showed mild
degenerative changes in the facets, grossly stable vertebral
body hemangiomas or lipomas, a small left renal cyst, and a
mild diffuse disc bulge at ¶ 4- 5, but no significant
disc protrusion was detected. (Tr. 271-272).
October 7, 2014, Plaintiff again reported chronic lumbar
spine pain that ached, but did not radiate. (Tr. 287, 291).
Upon exam, he exhibited decreased range of motion and pain.
(Tr. 287, 291). Dr. Baker diagnosed him with DDD, but he
decided to discontinue the Norco. (Tr. 287, 291-292).
October 23, 2014, non-examining consultant, Dr. Bill Payne,
M.D., completed a Physical RFC Assessment. (Tr. 66-69). Dr.
Payne found that the records ...