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Lakey v. Social Security Administration

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

May 31, 2019



         This Recommended Disposition (“Recommendation”) has been sent to Judge James M. Moody Jr. Any party may file written objections to this Recommendation. Objections should be specific and should include the factual or legal basis for the objection.

         To be considered, objections must be received in the office of the Court Clerk within 14 days of this Recommendation. If no objections are filed, Judge Moody can adopt this Recommendation without independently reviewing the record. By not objecting, parties may also waive any right to appeal questions of fact.

         I. Introduction:

         On July 8, 2016, Ronnie Wayne Lakey applied for disability benefits, alleging disability beginning December 11, 2011. (Tr. at 21) His claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) also denied his application. (Tr. at 32) Mr. Lakey 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 Commissioner's final decision. Mr. Lakey filed this case seeking judicial review of the decision denying his benefits.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Mr. Lakey had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from the alleged onset date of December 11, 2011 through the date last-insured of December 31, 2016. (Tr. at 23) At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. Lakey had the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, hypertension, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), obstructive sleep apnea, and obesity. Id.

         After finding that Mr. Lakey's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 24), the ALJ determined that Mr. Lakey had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of work at the sedentary level with some additional limitations. (Tr. at 25) He could only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Id. He could not climb ramps, ladders, or scaffolds, and could not perform overhead reaching with the right upper extremity. Id. He would require the use of a cane for ambulating and balancing. Id. He could perform work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote with few variables and little judgment, and the supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete. Id.

         The ALJ found that Mr. Lakey was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. at 30) At step five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find, based on Mr. Lakey's age, education, work experience and RFC, that he was capable of performing work in the national economy as surveillance monitor and assembler. (Tr. at 31-32) Based on the determination, the ALJ held that Mr. Lakey was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         In this appeal, the Court must review the Commissioner's decision for legal error and assure that the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Brown v. Colvin, 825 F.3d 936, 939 (8th Cir. 2016) (citing Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929 (8th Cir. 2010)). Stated another way, the decision must rest on enough evidence that “a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support [the] conclusion.” Halverson, 600 F.3d at 929. The Court will not reverse the decision, however, solely because there is evidence to support a conclusion different from that reached by the Commissioner. Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 578 (8th Cir. 2006).

         B. Mr. Lakey's Arguments on Appeal

         Mr. Lakey contends that the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits lacks substantial supporting evidence. He argues that the ALJ should have considered and discussed Mr. Lakey's Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) rating and unemployability status. Further, he argues that the Appeals Council did not fully consider the new evidence Mr. Lakey submitted, to his detriment.

         Mr. Lakey complained of left knee, right shoulder, and low back pain. But knee and shoulder x-rays were normal in 2011. (Tr. at 336-339). Mr. Lakey experienced relief from pain with an AC joint injection in his shoulder. (Tr. at 536). Lumbar x-rays revealed mild degenerative disc disease, which the ALJ found to be a severe impairment. (Tr. at 338). On two occasions, Mr. Lakey had negative straight-leg raises, and the range of motion in his spine was generally normal. (Tr. at 345-349, 2144-2147) An MRI of the lumbar spine revealed stable degenerative changes, with disc bulges, and some foraminal narrowing. (Tr. at 666) Mr. Lakey said that Flexeril and Gabapentin helped with pain, as did a TENS unit and massages. (Tr. at 74-77, 380). In March 2016, Mr. Lakey had no ankylosis or muscle spasm and walked with a normal gait. (Tr. at 1455). Still, his doctor found ...

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