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Erwin v. Social Security Administration

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

July 5, 2018



         This 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.

         Any 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.

         I. Introduction:

         On 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 Commissioner.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ 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.

         After 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)

         The ALJ 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.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The 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. 1996)).

         B. Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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).

         Mr. 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.[1]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. ...

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