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Morgan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

December 21, 2017

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


          JOE. J. VOLPE JUDGE


         This recommended disposition has been submitted to United States District Judge J. Leon Holmes. The parties may file specific objections to these findings and recommendations and must provide the factual or legal basis for each objection. The objections must be filed with the Clerk no later than fourteen (14) days from the date of the findings and recommendations. A copy must be served on the opposing party. The district judge, even in the absence of objections, may reject these proposed findings and recommendations in whole or in part.


         Plaintiff, Robbie Morgan, has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration to deny his claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Both parties have submitted appeal briefs and the case is ready for a decision.

         A court's function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and free of legal error. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009); Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Reynolds v. Chater, 82 F.3d 254, 257 (8th Cir. 1996). In assessing the substantiality of the evidence, courts must consider evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it; a court may not, however, reverse the Commissioner's decision merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision. Sultan v. Barnhart, 368 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir. 2004); Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993).

         The history of the administrative proceedings and the statement of facts relevant to this decision are contained in the respective briefs and are not in serious dispute. Therefore, they will not be repeated in this opinion except as necessary. After careful consideration of the record as a whole, I find the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence.

         Plaintiff was fifty-seven years old at the time of the administrative hearing. (Tr. 35.) He testified he earned a general equivalence diploma in school. (Id.) He has past relevant work as a welder and drill press operator. (Tr. 26.)

         The Administrative Law Judge[1] (ALJ) found Mr. Morgan had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 15, 2014 - the amended onset date. (Tr. 16.) He has “severe” impairments in the form of “history of arteriosclerotic heart disease/coronary artery disease [status post] remote stent placement, cervicalgia/cervical disc disorder with myelopathy, bilateral shoulder osteoarthritis s/p left shoulder decompression, lumbar spondylolysis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” (Id.) The ALJ further found Mr. Morgan did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or equaling an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.[2] (Tr. 18.)

         The ALJ determined Mr. Morgan had the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of light work given his physical impairments. (Id.) The ALJ concluded Mr. Morgan could no longer perform his past work, so he utilized the services of a vocational expert to determine if jobs existed that Plaintiff could perform despite his impairments. Based on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ determined Mr. Morgan could perform the jobs of circuit board drill press operator, weld inspector and hand solderer. (Tr. 26, 73-80.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined Mr. Morgan was not disabled. (Tr. 26-27.)

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review of the ALJ's decision, making his decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4.) Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint initiating this appeal. (Doc. No. 2.)

         Plaintiff raises a number of arguments in his brief. (Doc. No. 11.) However, the real issue in this case is whether the ALJ rightly discounted the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician, Travis Richardson, D.O. (Id. at 3-11.) Dr. Richardson treated Plaintiff for approximately two years and, as part of this disability process, completed an Attending Physician Statement. Dr. Richardson identified limitations that put into question Mr. Morgan's ability to perform work at the light exertional level. (Tr. 465-66.)

         The ALJ discounted Dr. Richardson's opinions because, “. . . there are no laboratory and/or diagnostic test results which he performed that demonstrate and/or support his limitations.” (Tr. 25.) The ALJ concluded, “His opinion is being given some weight to the extent his limitations are consistent with the residual functional capacity above and found to be appropriate and consistent with the evidence of record as a whole.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff correctly argues his treating doctors should generally be given deference. But after a close review of the record, I ...

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