United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Eastern Division
DENNIS L. WATKINS, JR. PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
Procedures for Filing Objections:
following Recommended Disposition
(“Recommendation”) has been sent to Chief United
States District Judge Brian S. Miller. You may file written
objections to all or part of this Recommendation. If you do
so, those objections must: (1) specifically explain the
factual and/or legal basis for your objection; and (2) be
received by the Clerk of this Court within fourteen (14) days
of this Recommendation. By not objecting, you may waive the
right to appeal questions of fact.
April 12, 2004, Daniel Watkins (“Watkins”) filed
for social security disability benefits. (R. at 49-50, 206,
223-24). On May 23, 2007, an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) held that Watkins was not entitled to
disability benefits. (R. at 13-18). After the Appeals Council
denied Watkins's request for review (R. at 4), he
appealed to the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Arkansas.
23, 2010, the district court affirmed the Commissioner's
decision, and Watkins appealed. See Watkins v.
Astrue, E.D. Ark. No. 2:09CV00048-JTR. On March 31,
2011, the Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded the case for
further administrative proceedings, because
“substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's
adverse credibility determination on Watkins's subjective
mental complaints or the ALJ's mental RFC
determination.” (R. at 388-400). Watkins v.
Astrue, 414 F. App'x 894 (8th Cir. 2011).
November 9, 2012, after another administrative hearing, a
second ALJ held that Watkins was not entitled to disability
benefits. (R. at 404-14). On September 17, 2013, the Appeals
Council remanded the case for further evaluation,
specifically directed the ALJ to obtain a consultative mental
examination, “if warranted and available.” (R. at
21, 2015, after a third administrative hearing, the ALJ in
this case denied Watkins's application for disability
benefits. (R. at 258-73). On July 18, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied his request for review (R. at 249-51), making
the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. On August 29, 2016, Watkins initiated this
action in federal court.
reasons stated below, the Court recommends reversing and
remanding the Commissioner's decision and ordering an
immediate award of benefits to Watkins.
The Commissioner's Decision:
conducting an administrative hearing, the ALJ rendered a
decision finding that Watkins had severe impairments of mild
right curvature of the thoracic spine and a shallow disk
bulge at ¶ 7-T8, with reported back pain and joint pain;
but, all of his mental impairments were non-severe.
(R. at 261-62). Based on his severe physical impairments and
work history, the ALJ concluded that Watkins had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform unskilled
light work, performed by rote and involving contact
with others that was superficial to the work performed, with
only occasional climbing, stooping, crawling, crouching, and
overhead reaching. (R. at 263).
taking testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”),
the ALJ concluded that Watkins was not disabled because his
RFC allowed him to return to his past relevant work as an
agricultural insect control inspector. (R. at 272-73).
the administrative hearing, the ALJ specifically
noted the many years Watkins's disability claim had
bounced among administrative and judicial proceedings and he
vowed to give the case the time and attention it required to
finally reach the right result:
“Believe me, I've read it all. … I spent
half a day going through this file.” (R. at 349).
“What I've done is I've established to you
[counsel] and to Mr. Watkins and of course, to the Courts and
Appeals Council, I'm very familiar with his file.
… This case has been before us twice. … We need
to put an end to this case one way or the other. Hopefully
the people who are reviewing this case, either when I pay
this case or not, will realize I spent the time to know the
facts of your case.” (R. at 350).
“Usually in a case with the remands and as old as this
case is, it's an issue to expedite it, move it as fast as
possible. I'm not going to follow that procedure in this
case because this case has been heard twice by two different
Judges. And this is the third Judge. It's been before the
Courts. It's been to the Appeals Council over and over
again. … Eighth Circuit. I mean so this case has been
around. … So I'm going to leave the case open 60
days, not 30, but 60. And 60 days, that will give you time to
have all the tests done to show anything that is going on
with this individual. And if I don't receive anything
within 60 days, I'll ...