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Fulkerson v. Berryhill

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

January 12, 2018

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


         Plaintiff Chris Fulkerson (“Fulkerson”) began this case by filing a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g). In the complaint, he challenged the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), a decision based upon the findings of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).

         Fulkerson maintains that the ALJ's findings are not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole.[1] It is Fulkerson's position that his residual functional capacity was erroneously assessed, and he offers two reasons why. First, Fulkerson maintains that he cannot perform light work, as the ALJ found, because Fulkerson cannot satisfy the standing or walking requirements of light work. Second, Fulkerson maintains that the ALJ's credibility analysis was fleeting and focused exclusively on Fulkerson's daily activities, making no mention of his work history.

         The ALJ is required to assess the claimant's residual functional capacity, which is a determination of the most a person can do despite his limitations. See Brown v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 535 (8th Cir. 2004). The assessment is made using all of the relevant evidence in the record, but the assessment must be supported by some medical evidence. See Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959 (8th Cir. 2010). In the assessment, the ALJ must evaluate the claimant's subjective complaints. See Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211 (8th Cir. 2001). The ALJ should consider the medical evidence and evidence of the claimant's daily activities; the duration, frequency, and intensity of his pain; the dosage and effectiveness of his medication; precipitating and aggravating factors; and functional restrictions. See Id. [citing Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984)].

         The record reflects that Fulkerson was born on January 24, 1964, and was fifty years old when he filed his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income payments. He alleged in the applications that he had become disabled beginning on March 27, 2014, because of impairments that included coronary artery disease, double bypass surgery, and gout. See Transcript at 147, 151.

         A summary of the evidence relevant to Fulkerson's ability to stand or walk reflects that he saw Dr. Leslie McCasland, M.D., (“McCasland”) on March 6, 2013, for complications caused by gout in his feet. See Transcript at 667-669. McCasland noted that Fulkerson was taking Colcrys and allopurinol every day for gout and was tolerating the medications well. McCasland also noted that although Fulkerson had a “mini-flare on the dorsum of his right foot, ” he was otherwise doing “fairly well.” See Transcript at 667. McCasland continued Fulkerson on his medications and urged him to continue using Colcrys.

         On March 29, 2013, Fulkerson saw Dr. James Murrey, M.D., (“Murrey”). See Transcript at 395-399. Fulkerson reported that he had stopped taking allopurinol because it had caused complications, but he had restarted it when he began having “a lot of gout again in his right ... foot that was very painful.” See Transcript at 395. Murrey recommended that Fulkerson discontinue Colcrys and allopurinol and recommended that he begin taking Decamix . Murr ey al so spoke a t lengt h with Fulkerson about his need to maintain a low protein diet because certain foods could cause a flare up of his gout.

         Fulkerson saw McCasland on August 14, 2013. See Transcript at 650-653. Fulkerson reported a flare up of gout in his left mid-foot. He reported no “dietary indiscretion” and reported having taken all of his medications. See Transcript at 650. McCasland prescribed a Medrol Dosepak to be used in the event of a flare up and continued the use of Uloric, which Fulkerson had previously been prescribed.

         Fulkerson saw Murrey on October 15, 2013. See Transcript at 380-384. With respect to Fulkerson's gout, Murrey's progress note reflects the following: “[McCasland] has [Fulkerson] on Uloric as well as Colchicine, which [Fulkerson] states he is taking [three] days a week for his gout. He feels this has helped his flare ups. He had it in his foot ...” See Transcript at 380. Murrey continued Fulkerson on his medications.

         On December 16, 2013, McCasland saw Fulkerson for his gout. See Transcript at 644-646. Although Fulkerson reported “twinges in his big toes, ” he did not report any flare ups of his gout. See Transcript at 644. He also reported that he was taking and tolerating his medications. McCasland continued Fulkerson on his medications.

         On March 27, 2014, Fulkerson presented to a NEA Baptist Clinic emergency room complaining of chest pains and a syncope, or near syncope, event. See Transcript at 492-508. Testing was performed, and the diagnosis was dehydration.

         On April 11, 2014, Fulkerson underwent a stress echocardiogram. See Transcript at 490-491. The results of the “[t]echnically adequate study” were within normal limits. See Transcript at 491. The summary portion of the report includes the following notation: “[e]xcellent exercise tolerance with adequate heart rate response with no induced chest pain.” See Transcript at 491.

         Fulkerson saw Murrey again on April 18, 2014, for a follow-up examination. See Transcript at 363-367. Murrey noted in his progress note that Fulkerson was scheduled to return to work on April 21, 2014. Murrey recorded Fulkerson's history of present illness as follows:

... [Fulkerson] was hospitalized ... for a near syncope episode at work. This occurred associated with exertion. He also had preceding this some right sided chest pain. He was also noted to be hypotensive, hypoglycemic, and tachycardic. He was admitted. He had a ventilation profusion lung scan and chest x-ray and lab cardiac enzymes that were negative. He has also had a stress echocardiogram done April 11th that did not show any evidence of reversible ischemia. He had been doing strenuous work and he had prior to that time been used to office work. ... He has not had chest pain as severe as when he was in the hospital. ...

See Transcript at 363. Murrey opined that Fulkerson was “resolved from his syncope episode” but likely had “poor exercise conditioning.” See Transcript at 367.

         Over the next two months, Fulkerson continued to complain of syncope, or near syncope, events; dehydration; sweating; and lightheadedness. See Transcript at 482-287, 362, 361. It appears ...

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