United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
MICHAEL A. GRAVES, SR. PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
HOLMES, III CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
Michael A. Graves, Sr., brings this action under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his claim for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(hereinafter “the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). 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. § 405(g).
filed his application for DIB on August 27, 2013, alleging an
onset date of August 23, 2013, due to depression,
fibromyalgia, hypertension, gastroesophageal reflux disease
(“GERD”), reactive airway disease, neck pain,
abnormal glucose, polyarthritis, malaise, fatigue, migraines,
and left ankle problems. (ECF No. 9, pp. 61, 74). Based on
his work credits, the Commissioner determined that the
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act
through December 31, 2018. (ECF No. 9, p. 18).
application was denied at both the initial and
reconsideration levels. An administrative hearing was held on
October 29, 2014. The Plaintiff was present and represented
by counsel. (ECF No. 9, pp. 34-59). Following the hearing, an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) entered an
unfavorable decision on May 2, 2015. (ECF No. 9, pp. 16-28).
concluded that the Plaintiff's hypertension, reactive
airway disease, degenerative disc disease (“DDD”)
at the C5-C6 level, and depression were severe, but they did
not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in
Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (ECF No. 9, pp.
18-20). The ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing light
work, except that he must work in a controlled environment
where he would not be exposed to dust, fumes, smoke, or
temperature extremes. (ECF No. 9, p. 20). In addition, he can
do work with simple tasks and simple instructions.
time of the administrative hearing held on October 29, 2014,
Plaintiff was 45 years of age and had obtained a general
equivalency diploma (“GED”). (ECF No. 9, pp.
40-41). Plaintiff's past relevant work consisted of
working as a spool operator, air conditioner assembler, truck
loader, band saw operator, and radio mechanic. (ECF No. 9, p.
26). With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff could perform work as a fast food worker
and cashier II. (ECF No. 9, p. 27).
requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals
Council, and the request was denied on May 2, 2015. (ECF No.
9, pp. 5-9). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (ECF
No. 1). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case
is now ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 10, 11).
Court's role is to determine whether substantial evidence
supports the Commissioner's findings. Vossen v.
Astrue, 612 F.3d 1011, 1015 (8th Cir. 2010). Substantial
evidence is less than a preponderance, but it is enough that
a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the
Commissioner's decision. Teague v. Astrue, 638
F.3d 611, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). The Court must affirm the
ALJ's decision if the record contains substantial
evidence to support it. Blackburn v. Colvin, 761
F.3d 853, 858 (8th Cir. 2014). As long as there is
substantial evidence in the record that supports the
Commissioner's decision, the Court may not reverse it
simply because substantial evidence exists in the record that
would have supported a contrary outcome, or because the Court
would have decided the case differently. Miller v.
Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015). In other
words, if after reviewing the record it is possible to draw
two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those
positions represents the findings of the ALJ, the Court must
affirm the ALJ's decision. Id.
claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the
burden of proving his disability by establishing a physical
or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and
that prevents him from engaging in any substantial gainful
activity. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217
(8th Cir. 2001); see also 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). The Act defines “physical or mental
impairment” as “an impairment that results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(3). A plaintiff must show that his disability, not
simply his impairment, has lasted for at least twelve
Commissioner's regulations require her to apply a
five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for
disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in
substantial gainful activity since filing his or her claim;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe physical and/or mental
impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the
impairment(s) meet or equal an impairment in the listings;
(4) whether the impairment(s) prevent the claimant from doing
past relevant work; and, (5) whether the claimant is able to
perform other work in the national economy given his or her
age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). Only if he reaches the final stage does the
fact finder consider the Plaintiff's age, education, and
work experience in light of his or her residual functional
capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138,
1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982) (en banc) (abrogated on other
grounds); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).
Court has carefully 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
review of the pertinent medical evidence reflects the
following. On December 3, 2009, Plaintiff presented to Dr.
Magdalena C. Santos, M.D. to establish her as a primary care
physician. (ECF No. 9, pp. 1295-97). Plaintiff reported he
smoked for the past 18 years, but his breathing problems did
not start until after a deployment to Iraq. (Id.).
Plaintiff complained he could not walk one block without
shortness of breath. (Id.). Dr. Santos diagnosed
Plaintiff with hyperreactive airway disease and tobacco use.
(Id.). Plaintiff was instructed to continue all
present medications, and he reported he had cut down on
tobacco use with the help of Bupropion. (Id.). A
chest X-ray was also within normal limits. (ECF No. 9, p.
January 4, 2010, Dr. Santos provided a letter stating that
Plaintiff suffered from reactive airway disease aggravated by
exertion. (ECF No. 9, p. 1293).
August 19, 2010, Plaintiff saw Dr. Santos and complained of
shortness of breath, eyesight problems, midsternal chest
discomfort, and cough with phlegm. (ECF No. 9, pp. 1279-82).
Dr. Santos diagnosed him with reactive airway disease,
probable GERD, and hypertriglyceridemia. (Id.).
Plaintiff was referred to pulmonology with further testing
needed, he was started on Omeprazole, and dietary
restrictions were advised. (Id.).
20, 2010, a chest X-ray showed no acute cardiopulmonary
disease. (ECF No. 9, p. 825). An EKG revealed normal sinus
rhythm with preservation of right and left ventricular
systolic function. (ECF No. 9, pp. 935-37). Intracardiac
chamber dimensions were within normal limits, no significant
valvular abnormalities, estimated right atrial pressure was
normal, and no significant pericardial effusion was present.
September 8, 2010, Plaintiff presented to Dr. Glenda
Patterson, M.D., a pulmonologist, and complained of worsening
dyspnea with activity, protracted cough, and wheezing. (ECF
No. 9, pp. 928-29). Plaintiff reported the symptoms stated
while on tour in Iraq in 2008. (Id.). Dr. Patterson
diagnosed Plaintiff with dyspnea and reactive airway disease
secondary to dust, irritant, and pollutant exposure while on
tour in the Middle East. (Id.). Plaintiff was to
continue Asmanex and Combivent, and start Singulair at
also underwent a pulmonary function test (“PFT”).
(ECF No. 9, pp. 691-93, 939). Plaintiff's symptoms
included dyspnea at rest, dyspnea with exercise, persistent
and productive cough, and cigarette smoker. (Id.).
Dr. Patterson noted the increased FEF/FIF ratio suggested
extra thoracic obstruction with a reduced FEF of 25-75
percent, and PEF suggested presence of obstruction.
(Id.). The PFT also showed mild response to
bronchodilators, mild restrictive impairment, and mild gas
transfer abnormality. (Id.). Dr. Patterson
recommended clinical correlation to exclude extra-thoracic
September 14, 2010, a chest computed tomography
(“CT”) scan showed patchy right base
consolidation without pleural effusion or definite mass, and
no pathologic-sized adenopathy. (ECF No. 9, pp. 824-25).
Results could have represented ordinary pneumonia
superimposed on minimal underlying chronic lung disease.
(Id.). Clinical and radiographic follow up was
recommended. (Id.). Six minute walk test showed
resting room air saturation was 98 percent with a heart rate
of 74, exercise at 200 feet was air saturation of 98 percent
with a heart rate of 96, at 400 feet was air saturation of 99
percent with a heart rate of 88, and 600 feet was air
saturation of 98 percent with a heart rate of 103. (ECF No.
9, p. 1268).
October 21, 2010, Plaintiff presented to Dr. Patterson, and
Plaintiff remained dyspneic, had decreased pace for
activities, avoided strong odors, coughed with irritating
agents, and was less jittery with Foradil. (ECF No. 9, pp.
1263-64). Dr. Patterson diagnosed Plaintiff with reactive
airway disease with less episodes while on Singulair.
(Id.). Dr. Patterson noted Plaintiff avoided known
triggers such as perfume and strong odors, no diffuse
parenchymal process found on CT scan, and no desaturation
with activity. (Id.). Dr. Patterson referred
Plaintiff for an allergy evaluation to narrow the range of
inciting agents, and Combivent, Singulair, and Asmanex were
October 28, 2010, Plaintiff presented to Dr. Michael Marsh,
M.D., an ENT-otolaryngologist, and he was diagnosed with
asthma. (ECF No. 9, p. 694). Plaintiff was allergy tested and
subsequently received regular allergy desensitization
injections. (ECF No. 9, p. 696-99, 702-07, 758-63, 905,
January 11, 2011, Dr. Patterson diagnosed Plaintiff with
stable reactive airway disease, multiple allergies, and
arthralgias with unknown etiology. (ECF No. 9, pp. 1249-50).
The plan was to continue Combivent, Asmanex, and Singulair.