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Foster v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

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

March 15, 2018

JOHNNY LEE FOSTER PLAINTIFF
v.
COMMISSIONER, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

         The following Recommended Disposition (“Recommendation”) has been sent to Judge Billy Roy Wilson. Any party may file written objections to this Recommendation. Objections must specifically explain the factual or legal basis for the objection. To be considered, objections must be received by the Clerk of Court within 14 days of this Recommendation. By not objecting, parties may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.

         I. Background:

         Johnny Foster applied for social security disability benefits alleging a disability onset date of August 4, 2014. (R. at 150). After a hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision denying the application. (R. at 112). The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Social Security Administration. (R. at 1). Mr. Foster has now filed this lawsuit requesting judicial review.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Mr. Foster had the following severe impairments: posttraumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. (R. at 104). The ALJ found, however, that Mr. Foster's right-shoulder rotator cuff tear, mild degenerative disk disease, and obesity were not severe impairments. (R. at 105). After considering all of Mr. Foster's impairments, the ALJ found that Mr. Foster had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to work at all exertional levels, so long as the job requirements were limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks involving only simple work-related decisions with few, if any, workplace changes and no more than incidental contact with coworkers, supervisors, and the general public. (R. at 107).

         A vocational expert (“VE”) testified that, with this RFC assignment, Mr. Foster could not perform his past relevant work. (R. at 110). The VE further testified, however, Mr. Foster could perform other jobs, such as hand packager, warehouse checker, and printed circuit board checker. (R. at 111). Based on this testimony, the ALJ found that Mr. Foster was not disabled. (R. at 112).

         III. Discussion:

         The Court is tasked with reviewing the record to determine whether substantial evidence on the record as a whole supports the Commissioner's findings. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). “Substantial evidence” in this context means “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.” Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).

         Mr. Foster contends that the ALJ erred in finding that his rotator cuff tear and degenerative disk disease were non-severe impairments and objects to the ALJ's conclusion that the medical evidence did not support a finding that these impairments caused significant pain and functional limitations. He also challenges the weight the ALJ afforded the medical opinions in the record.

         As an initial matter, Mr. Foster complains that the Appeals Council did not review the medical records he provided after the initial decision. The contention is mistaken. He notes that the Appeals Council purported to look at medical records from Central Arkansas HCS dated February 17, 2016 through March 11, 2016 totaling 180 pages, but erroneously identified the evidence as covering a period from October 21, 2014 through February 16, 2016. (R. at 2, 5).

         There is no inconsistency. The HCS records from February 17, 2016 through March 11, 2016 are found in the record at pages 19-98. These records were not considered by the Appeals Council because they cover a period after January 25, 2016, the date of the ALJ's decision and are, therefore, not relevant to the claim at issue in this case.

         Medical records from October 21, 2014 through February 16, 2016, which cover a time period that is relevant to Mr. Foster's application in this case, were properly considered. See Exhibit 14F. The letter and order from the Appeals Council accurately reflect the status of these separate portions of Mr. Foster's medical records from Central Arkansas HCS records.

         Mr. Foster next argues that the ALJ erred by finding that his rotator cuff tear and degenerative disk disease were not severe impairments. He maintains that MRIs of his back and shoulder establish a severe impairment.

         An MRI of Mr. Foster's back revealed mild-to-moderate facet arthropathy and ligamentum thickening at all lumbar levels; mild diffuse disk bulge at ¶ 3-L4, L4-L5, and L5-S1; no significant thecal sac compression; and minimal-to-moderate narrowing of the neural foramina from L3-L4 to L5-S1. (R. at 2101). An MRI of his shoulder revealed tears in the supraspinatus tendon, infraspinatus, and subscapularis; a subchondral cyst ...


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