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Hutchins v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Little Rock Division

August 8, 2018

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



         The following Recommended Disposition (“Recommendation”) has been sent to United States District Judge J. Leon Holmes. You may file written objections to all or part of this Recommendation. If you do so, those objections must: (1) specifically explain the factual and/or legal basis for your objection; and (2) be received by the Clerk of this Court within fourteen (14) days of this Recommendation. By not objecting, you may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.


         Plaintiff Wesley Wayne Hutchins (“Hutchins”), in his appeal of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (defendant “Berryhill”) to deny his claim for Disability Insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI), contends the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred: (1) in giving controlling weight to the opinions of non-examining state agency consultants over Hutchins' treating neurologist; and (2) in failing to address or evaluate new and material evidence in reaching her decision. The parties have ably summarized the medical records and the testimony given at the administrative hearing conducted on August 14, 2017. (Tr. 46-78). The Court has carefully reviewed the record to determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support Berryhill's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The relevant period for purposes of Hutchins' disability determination is from August 2, 2015, his alleged onset date, through October 3, 2017, the date of the ALJ's decision in this proceeding.

         Administrative Hearing:

         At the June 2017 administrative hearing Hutchins was 42, had achieved a GED, earned 24 hours of college credits, and earned an industrial electrical license as well as a high pressure boiler license. He stated he was 6' and weighed 298 pounds, was divorced and lived alone. He described his past relevant work, tracing it backwards from August 2015 until November 2005. These jobs were uniformly heavy exertion jobs, requiring him to lift 100 pounds. He confirmed that he last worked on August 2, 2015, when he injured his back and went to the hospital. His job from 2008-2013 was as a high pressure boiler operator. He stated he left that job for personal reasons. From 2013 until roughly June of 2015, he did not work full time.

         Hutchins described limited daily activities, including reading, doing small loads of laundry, and lying down an hour or more each day.[1] When asked by the ALJ what prevents him from working, Hutchins replied: “My legs, my back, muscle spasms, not being able to strap a tool belt on my side, and climb 110 foot in the air or 40 foot in the air.” (Tr. 60). Hutchins continued that he lacked mobility and experienced numbness in his legs, was taking muscle relaxers and pain medications three times daily, “and it really just, and then the frustration of not being able to do the things that I've done from the past of doing.” (Tr. 60). Hutchins described some treatment for his back pain, and allowed that the next step may be major surgery. He also testified to having migraine headaches, somewhat eased by February 2017 facial surgery, and currently being treated with Advil. Hutchins stated he was currently taking nortrptyline daily, trazanidine three times daily, hydrocodone three times daily, and lisonipril daily. According to him, he recently discontinued use of gabapentin. Side effects of his medications were dry mouth and sleepiness, and the need to stay out of direct sunlight.

         Hutchins estimated he could sit less than 30 minutes, ride in a vehicle for 30-60 minutes, and has trouble lifting, walking, climbing, reaching overhead, gripping, and picking up items from the floor. When asked if there was a reason he could not perform a desk job, he answered: “The numbness through my jaw, through my back. It would, I just, and the psychological. . . I just don't see it. Psychologically.” (Tr. 69-70). He stated he could not sit for 6 hours a day. (Tr. 49-68).

         Eukay Horsman (“Horsman”), a vocational expert, testified. The ALJ posed a hypothetical question to Horsman, asking her to assume a worker of Hutchins' age and educational and work background who could perform light work but only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, and could occasionally overhead reach. Horsman indicated such a worker could not perform Hutchins' past relevant work, but could perform other jobs, such as assembler of small parts or sorter of agricultural produce. (Tr. 63-64). A second hypothetical question was posed, asking Horsman if jobs would be available if the worker was limited to sedentary work, coupled with the other limitations from the initial hypothetical question. Horsman identified the jobs of surveillance system monitor and callout operator as available to such a worker. In a third hypothetical, Horsman was asked to assume the worker would miss two days each month. Horsman identified no jobs for such a worker. (Tr. 71-75).

         ALJ's Decision:

         The ALJ, in her October 2017 decision, found Hutchins had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spine with neuropathy, migraine headaches, and obesity. She found the impairments, either singly or in combination, did not meet any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R Part 404. The ALJ determined Hutchins had the RFC for light work with restrictions which mirrored those posed to Horsman in the first hypothetical question at the administrative hearing. The ALJ thoroughly reviewed the objective medical evidence, including a January 2017 medical assessment executed by Dr. Mohammad Daaif (“Daaif”), a treating neurologist. Relying upon the testimony of Horsman, the ALJ found Hutchins was not disabled. (Tr. 19-31).

         Medical Evidence During the Relevant Period

         Hutchins was seen on August 2, 2015 after suffering a fall resulting in back pain. (Tr. 427). A cervical CT scan revealed straightening of the normal lordotic curvature of the cervical spine, with an impression of cervical strain/spasm and potential ligamentous injury. (Tr. 433). Hutchins spent the night in the hospital and was discharged on August 3 with Flexeril, Naprosyn, and Tramadol. (Tr. 428). No limitations were imposed by the hospital physician, who sent Hutchins for physical therapy.

         Hutchins was seen on August 3, 2015, by Marion Hord, M.D. (“Hord”), who diagnosed thoracic back pain, lumbar spine pain, and left leg weakness. (Tr. 479). Hord directed Hutchins was “to go to work on light duty with no lifting pushing pulling or tugging. He is to have limited walking and no climbing.” (Tr. 479). On ...

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