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Hubbard v. Berryhill

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

April 10, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         The following recommended disposition has been sent to United States District Judge Kristine G. Baker. 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 Clerk within fourteen (14) days of this Recommendation. By not objecting, you may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.


         Plaintiff Marilyn Lenise Hubbard (“Hubbard”), in her appeal of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (defendant “Berryhill”) to deny her claim for Disability Insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI), contends the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred: (1) by failing to consider all of her impairments in combination; (2) in his analysis and credibility findings regarding her subjective allegations of pain; (3) by finding she had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work; (4) by finding she had the RFC to perform a limited range of light work; and (5) by failing to fully and fairly develop the medical record. The parties have ably summarized the medical records and the testimony given at the administrative hearing conducted on November 20, 2017. (Tr. 32-55). 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 under consideration is from May 31, 2015, the date of alleged onset, through February 8, 2018, when the ALJ ruled against Hubbard.

         The Administrative Hearing:

         Hubbard was 57 years old at the time of the administrative hearing. She testified that she had a tenth grade education with additional training as a nurse's aide and clerk typist. Hubbard, who was 5'5" tall and weighed 130 pounds, lived with her 14 year old son. She stated she had a current driver's license and drove short distances. The ALJ commented on Hubbard's excellent work history as a housekeeping cleaner. She stated she last worked in 2005, resigning from her job because her back would go out, she could not be on her legs, and her “hands wouldn't function.” (Tr. 40). Hubbard indicated she takes high blood pressure medication, Zoloft, Naproxen, and two other medications to calm her nerves. These medications help, and they have no significant side effects, according to Hubbard. She testified she could tend to her personal hygiene, help with laundry and meals, manage her medications, and handle finances. Hubbard said her daughter assisted her with shopping chores. As for daily activities, she stated she walks around in the house and tends to little chores. She said she attends church when it is not too cold. She described carpal tunnel syndrome (“CTS”) surgery in August 2015, followed by a second CTS surgery in September 2015. Despite these surgeries, Hubbard testified that she struggles with holding a heavy coffee cup, with buttons and zippers, and with combing her hair. Hubbard noted that a treating physician, Dr. Voinea (“Voinea”) diagnosed her with lupus, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis, and that her joints hurt “very bad.” (Tr. 48). This pain affects her ability to stand or walk, according to Hubbard. (Tr. 37-50).

         Kola Brown (“Brown”), a vocational expert, testified that Hubbard's past relevant work was as a housekeeping cleaner, a light, unskilled job. The ALJ posed a hypothetical question to Brown, asking him to assume a worker of Hubbard's age, education, and experience, who could perform light work but only occasionally stoop and not be exposed to hazards, and could frequently handle and occasionally finger. In addition, the work would be limited to simple, routine, repetitive task jobs, with simple, direct, concrete supervision, and the job would have a specific vocational preparation (“SVP”) of one or two where tasks are learned within 30 days. Brown stated such a worker could perform Hubbard's past relevant work, as well as the jobs of inspector or hand packager. The ALJ then altered the hypothetical, adding in depression and anxiety causing the worker to be off-task 25% of the time and to miss work at least 3 days a month. Brown opined that such a worker would not be able to perform full time competitive work. In response to questions from Hubbard's attorney, Brown stated that a worker who could only occasionally reach, handle, and finger could not perform Hubbard's past relevant work, nor could a worker limited to standing 6 hours, sitting/standing 2 hours, and sitting 6 hours a day. (Tr. 50-53).

         ALJ's Decision:

         In his February 8, 2018, decision, the ALJ determined Hubbard had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia syndrome, arthropathy, CTS, systemic lupus erythematosus, generalized anxiety, and depressive disorder. The ALJ found Hubbard did not meet any Listing, and specifically mentioned Listings 1.02, 11.14, 14.02, 12.04, and 12.06. The ALJ considered the “paragraph B” criteria, finding Hubbard had a mild limitation in understanding, remembering, or applying, a mild limitation in interacting with others, a mild limitation for adapting or managing one's self, and a moderate limitation with regard to concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace. The ALJ found that Hubbard had the RFC to perform light work, except that she could perform no more than frequent handling and fingering duties, no more than occasional stooping, and could have no exposure to hazards. Further, the ALJ found she could perform simple, routine, and repetitive task jobs only, with simple, direct, concrete supervision, and with an SVP of one or two where tasks are learned within 30 days. This RFC was very similar to the one described by the ALJ in the initial hypothetical question he posed to Brown at the administrative hearing. The ALJ thoroughly considered Hubbard's subjective statements and the medical evidence of record, specifically finding the symptoms described by Hubbard “not entirely consistent” with the medical and other evidence. (Tr. 21). The ALJ also cited the minimal to normal objective medical examination findings, which he found inconsistent with Hubbard's assertion of debilitating pain symptoms. Relying upon Brown's testimony, the ALJ ruled Hubbard could perform her past relevant work as a housekeeper cleaner. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded Hubbard was not disabled. (Tr. 15-26).

         Medical evidence:

         In the year preceding the onset of the relevant period, Hubbard received the following medical care.

         Hubbard was seen by her treating physician, Dr. Paul Valentin-Stone (“Valentin-Stone”), on June 16, 2014 for complaints of vertigo and back pain, and she stated that Mobic helped just a little. (Tr. 365). In response to her reports of lightheadedness, Valentin-Stone reduced her Lisinopril. (Tr. at 365).

         Hubbard visited North Metro Medical center on June 23, 2014 for an episode of near-syncope possibly related to a change in blood pressure medication, and was advised to stop taking Norvasc and resume taking Lisinopril. (Tr. 333-34). A chest x-ray revealed no acute disease. (Tr. 341). Valentin-Stone saw Hubbard the same day after her visit to the emergency room, and stopped her Norvasc. Valentin-Stone noted Hubbard should avoid heavy lifting, and recorded she was responding well to present medications for arthritis and hypertension. (Tr. 368-70).

         Hubbard saw Valentin-Stone after an emergency room visit for syncope and vertigo on September 17, 2014. (Tr. 371). About four months later, she saw Valentin-Stone complaining of constant ...

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