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Boyce v. Social Security Administration

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

May 25, 2018



         I. Introduction:

         On November 25, 2014, Betty Boyce applied for disability benefits, alleging disability beginning on November 5, 2014. (Tr. at 63) Ms. Boyce's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Ms. Boyce's application. (Tr. at 71) Ms. Boyce requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision, but that request was denied. (Tr. at 1) Therefore, the ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Ms. Boyce filed this case seeking judicial review of the decision denying her benefits.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court[1] affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Ms. Boyce had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset of her alleged disability, November 5, 2014. (Tr. at 65) At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Boyce had the following severe impairments: back pain, bilateral knee pain, and hypertension. Id.

         After finding that Ms. Boyce's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 65), the ALJ determined that Ms. Boyce had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of work at the light exertional level, with some limitations. She could only occasionally climb, balance, stoop, and bend, and she could never crouch, kneel, or crawl. (Tr. at 66)

         The ALJ found that Ms. Boyce was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. (Tr. at 27) At step five, however, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find that, based on Ms. Boyce's age, education, work experience and RFC, she was capable of performing work in the national economy as sales attendant and inspector. (Tr. at 71) The ALJ determined, therefore, that Ms. Boyce was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. 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 he ALJ's decision.” Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009)(citation omitted). In making this determination, the Court must consider not only evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision, but also evidence that supports a contrary outcome. The Court cannot reverse the decision, however, “merely because substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision.” Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

         B. Ms. Boyce's Arguments on Appeal

         In this appeal, Ms. Boyce contends that the ALJ's decision to deny benefits is not supported by substantial evidence. She argues that the RFC assigned by the ALJ failed to incorporate all of her limitations arising from her back condition. She also challenges the ALJ's credibility analysis.

         Ms. Boyce presented with back pain on February 10, 2014, and a straight-leg raise test was positive. (Tr. at 356-357) She was prescribed hydrocodone. Id. On February 17, 2014, a lumbar MRI revealed mild degenerative spondylosis with mild canal stenosis and hypertrophic facet arthropathy. (Tr. at 11) Objective tests showing mild-to-moderate conditions do not support a finding of disability. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 738-39 (8th Cir. 2004). On February 25, 2014, Tim Maryanov, M.D., referenced a “near normal” MRI with no “significant neural element compromise.” (Tr. at 359) He also noted improvement with steroid injections, but stated that Ms. Boyce had a long history of intractable back pain. (Tr. at 359-360) This opinion appears to be contradictory, and when a physician's notes are internally inconsistent, the ALJ may give the opinion less deference. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 803 (8th Cir. 2005). Dr. Maryanov did not refer Ms. Boyce for surgery. (Tr. at 360)

         Ms. Boyce went to physical therapy for low back pain 12 times in March and April of 2014. (Tr. at 363-375) She began seeing pain specialist Jeffrey Hall, M.D., and he administered lumbar facet injections. (Tr. at 511-522) In May 2014, Ms. Boyce's doctor recommended she stay active and lose weight. (Tr. at 461) In fact, this was recommended throughout the relevant time period. (Tr. at 14-22, 453) A physician's recommendation to ...

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