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Crawford v. Berryhill

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

June 29, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT


         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Steven Crawford, applied for disability benefits on June 18, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of January 28, 2014. (Tr. at 12). The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denied Crawford's application. Id. The Appeals Council denied his request for review. (Tr. at 1). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Crawford has requested judicial review.

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

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Crawford had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of January 28, 2014. (Tr. at 14). The ALJ found, at Step Two of the sequential five-step analysis, that Crawford has the following severe impairments: fracture of non-extremity and migraine headaches. Id.

         At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Crawford's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. (Tr. at 15). Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that Crawford had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the full range of work at the medium level. Id.

         At Step Four, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert ("VE") to find that, based on Crawford's age, education, work experience and RFC, he could return to past relevant work as a welder. (Tr. at 18). The ALJ made an alternative finding, based upon VE testimony, that Crawford could perform representative occupations of siding installer and window installer. (Tr. at 19). Based on that determination, the ALJ held that Crawford 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 less than a preponderance but more than a scintilla. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009). In other words, it is "enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision." Id. (citation omitted). 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) (quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)).

         B. Crawford's Arguments on Appeal

         Crawford contends that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. He argues that the RFC should have included non-exertional limitations because of Crawford's headaches. For the following reasons, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.

         Crawford was assaulted on January 29, 2014, and as a result, suffered multiple fractures in his face. (Tr. at 331-338, 355, 370-372). He complained of headache and face pain. (Tr. at 331). He underwent surgery to repair the fractures. (Tr. at 370). Crawford was prescribed pain medication and Topamax (Imitrex) for headaches. (Tr. at 370-379). On June 6, 2014, Crawford told Sarah Hitt, Nurse Practitioner, that the Imitrex was not working. (Tr. at 376-377).

         Ms. Hitt filled out a medical source statement on July 17, 2014, having only seen Crawford twice. (Tr. at 412). She said that he suffered daily, constant headaches lasting 3-4 hours. Id. While she checked the box saying that his headaches did not interfere with his ability to work, she then wrote that he would only be able to work half the day, 2-3 days a week. Id. Ms. Hitt did not cite to any objective testing or clinical notes, and her opinion on the ability to work was inconsistent. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 803 (8th Cir. 2005)(“physician opinions that are internally inconsistent . . . are entitled to less deference than they would receive in the absence of inconsistencies.”) Moreover, checkbox medical source statements are not entitled to great weight, and Ms. Hitt was not an acceptable medical source. Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 794 (8th Cir. 2012); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404. 1527(e), 416.927(e); SSR 96-5p). The ALJ properly afforded Ms. Hitt's statement some weight, but not controlling weight. He relied in part upon her statement, but paired it with the opinions of the state-agency doctors, who opined that Crawford could do medium work. (Tr. at 70, 82). The ALJ properly evaluated the opinion evidence.

         On September 2, 2014, Crawford presented to Ms. Hitt with face pain and headache, because he had fallen and hit a pole. (Tr. at ...

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