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Howard v. Berryhill

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

January 17, 2018

RODNEY HOWARD PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         Plaintiff Rodney Howard (“Howard”) began the case at bar 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”).

         Howard maintains that the ALJ's findings are not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and primarily offers three reasons why.[1] Howard first maintains that his residual functional capacity was erroneously assessed because the ALJ's credibility determination was flawed. It is Howard's position that the medical evidence and his limited daily activities support his credibility and demonstrate that he cannot “perform the demands of full-time light work on a sustained basis.” See Docket Entry 11 at 11.

         The ALJ is required to assess the claimant's residual functional capacity, which is a determination of “the most a person can do despite that person's limitations.” See Brown v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 535, 538-39 (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). As a part of assessing the claimant's residual functional capacity, the ALJ is required to evaluate the claimant's subjective complaints. See Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211 (8th Cir. 2001). The ALJ does so by considering the medical evidence and evidence of the claimant's “daily activities; duration, frequency, and intensity of pain; dosage and effectiveness of medication; precipitating and aggravating factors; and functional restrictions.” See Id. at 1218 [citing Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984)].

         Howard was born on December 14, 1952, and was fifty-two years old on May 5, 2005, i.e., the day he allegedly became disabled. The record reflects, and the ALJ could and did find, that Howard last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2006. The Commissioner maintains, and the Court finds, that the relevant period in this case is therefore from May 5, 2005, through December 31, 2006.

         Howard filed an application for disability insurance benefits on June 17, 2013. In the application, he alleged that he had become disabled as a result of impairments that included gout, arthritis, obesity, and the partial amputation of his right index finger.

         Howard has ably summarized the medical evidence during the relevant period. Because the medical evidence is not extensive, the Court will reproduce large portions of his summary.

         Howard has a twenty percent service-connected disability rating from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”). See Transcript at 376. Ten percent of the rating is for the loss of an index finger, and ten percent of the rating is for hypertensive vascular disease.

         On March 22, 2005, Howard was seen at a VA hospital for hypertension. See Transcript at 370-374. The progress note reflects that he weighed 187 pounds and had a Body Mass. Index (“BMI”) of 25.8. His glucose and liver functioning were elevated. A physical examination revealed, in part, a full thyroid with a possible nodule on the right side. His extremities showed no evidence of clubbing, cyanosis, or edema. He reported smoking one pack of cigarettes a day and having done so for the past thirty years. Howard was diagnosed with hypertension controlled by medication, hyperglycemia, and tachycardia consistent with hypothyroidism. He was prescribed propranolol, was encouraged to stop smoking, and counseled about the benefits of diet and exercise.

         On March 24, 2005, VA officials notified Howard that earlier testing of his thyroid revealed suppressed levels of a thyroid-stimulating hormone. See Transcript at 369. He was prescribed medication for the condition.

         On April 27, 2005, Howard was seen again at a VA hospital for impairments that included hyperthyroidism, hyperglycemia, and hypertension. See Transcript at 365-368. The progress note reflects that he weighed 205 pounds and had a BMI of 32.2. A physical examination was consistent with hyperthyroidism and revealed, inter alia, a goiter. He also continued to show suppressed levels of a thyroid-stimulating hormone. He was continued on medications that included propranolol, HCTZ/Triamterene, Lisinopril, and Methlimazole. He was again encouraged to stop smoking.

         On May 3, 2006, Howard was seen at a VA hospital for follow-up of his hypertension and hyperthyroidism. See Transcript at 360-364. He reported that he had run out of his medications three months earlier but otherwise had no complaints. The progress note reflects that he weighed 200 pounds and had a BMI of 31.4. He was again diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, hypertension, and hyperglycemia. He was restarted on medications that included propranolol and was again counseled about the benefits of diet and exercise.

         On June 27, 2006, Howard was seen at a VA hospital for complaints of pain and swelling in his left knee and calf. See Transcript at 354-359. The progress notes reflects that he had been experiencing pain and swelling for approximately five days. He also reported having had episodes of “left knee ‘tightness' in the past.” See Transcript at 354. A physical examination revealed, inter alia, a diffusely swollen left knee with warmth and erythema, moderate tenderness, and decreased mobility. His weight was unchanged. Acute gout was diagnosed, and he was prescribed medication. The knee joint was also aspirated.

         Howard offers additional medical evidence from outside the relevant time period that he believes sheds light on his work-related limitations during the period. Specifically, he represents the following:

         On February 21, 2013, Howard underwent a physical examination for continued VA disability benefits. The healthcare provider indicated that Howard suffers from hypertension which was initially diagnosed in the 1980s and has been on medications ever since. His medication included Lisinopril and Carvedilol. He had a history of Afib (irregular heartbeat) and a history of congestive heart failure thought to be due to Afib with RVR (rapid ventricular response). It was noted ...


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