United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Northern Division
STEPHEN G. ERWIN PLAINTIFF
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION DEFENDANT
Recommended Disposition (“Recommendation”) has
been sent to Judge Kristine G. Baker. Mr. Erwin may file
written objections to this Recommendation. If he files
objections, they must be specific and must include the
factual or legal basis for your objection.
objections must be received in the office of the Court Clerk
within 14 days of this Recommendation. If no objections are
filed, Judge Baker can adopt this Recommendation without
independently reviewing the record. By not objecting, Mr.
Erwin may also waive any right to appeal questions of fact.
September 22, 2014, Stephen G. Erwin applied for disability
benefits, alleging disability beginning July 1, 2012. (Tr. at
35) His claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Id. Mr. Erwin 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. Mr. Erwin filed this case seeking judicial
review of the decision denying his benefits. For the reasons
explained below, the Court should affirm the decision of the
The Commissioner's Decision:
found that Mr. Erwin had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date of July 1, 2012. (Tr.
at 37) At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found
that Mr. Erwin had the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spine,
migraine headaches, chronic left metatarsal fracture in the
left foot, and hypertension. Id.
finding that Mr. Erwin's impairments did not meet or
equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 39), the ALJ determined
that Mr. Erwin had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform the full range of work at the
light level with an additional limitation: he could only
occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl.
(Tr. at 40)
found that Mr. Erwin was unable to perform any past relevant
work. (Tr. at 50) At step five, the ALJ relied on the
testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find
that, based on Mr. Erwin's age, education, work
experience and RFC, he was capable of performing work in the
national economy as a laminating machine off-bearer and a
clerical order caller. (Tr. at 51-52) Thus, the ALJ held that
Mr. Erwin was not disabled. Id.
Standard of Review
court's role in this appeal is to determine whether the
Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial
evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th
Cir. 2000). In this context, “substantial evidence@
means “enough that a reasonable mind would find it
adequate to support he ALJ's decision.”
Id; Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925
(8th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). In reviewing the
decision, 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.
Erwin's Arguments on Appeal In this appeal, Mr. Erwin
contends the ALJ's decision to deny benefits is not
supported by substantial evidence. He argues that he lacks
the functional ability to perform light work, even with the
added postural restrictions.
Erwin suffered from back and neck pain, and the ALJ
recognized that this was a severe impairment. David
Brightwell, a physician's assistant, examined Mr. Erwin
in July of 2014, to address his complaints of pain in his
back and extremities. (Tr. 421). At that time, Mr. Erwin had
soft tissue swelling and muscle spasm, with a history of
lumbar disc degeneration. Id. Pain was elicited with
movement of the shoulders and the cervical and lumbar spine
showed tenderness on palpation. (Tr. at 422) Neurological
examination was normal. Id. No. objective imaging
was done at this office visit. Mr. Erwin was prescribed pain
medication and was urged to exercise. A physician's
recommendation to exercise suggests that a claimant has an
increased functional capacity. See Moore v. Astrue,
572 F.3d 520, 524 (8th Cir. 2009).
Erwin underwent a consultative medical examination with Terry
Hansen, M.D., on December 13, 2014. (Tr. at 430) Mr. Erwin
told Dr. Hansen that, although he had headaches and back
pain, he had not had physical therapy, injections, or
surgery. Id. Mr. Erwin said he was able to perform
activities of daily living, with some pain. Id. Dr.
Hansen noted that Mr. Erwin had an antalgic gait and could
rise from a seated position, but he could not stand on heels
or toes due to pain. (Tr. at 431) An x-ray of the left ankle
showed a chronic fracture of the third
metatarsal.Id. X-rays of the lumbar spine
were unremarkable. (Tr. at 432) Dr. Hansen found normal range
of motion in the cervical spine, lumbar spine, and hips. (Tr.