Jonathon A. Swink Plaintiff- Appellant
Andrew M. Saul,  Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant-Appellee
Submitted: April 19, 2019
from United States District Court for the Western District of
Arkansas - Ft. Smith
SHEPHERD, MELLOY, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.
MELLOY, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Swink appeals the district court's judgment
upholding the Social Security Administration
("SSA") Commissioner's decision to deny Swink
disability insurance benefits. Having jurisdiction under 28
U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.
is a 41-year-old man from Charleston, Arkansas. Since at
least 2012, various medical professionals have treated him
for a seizure disorder, anxiety, and back pain. In 2013,
Swink underwent back surgery to remedy a herniated disc in
his lumbar spine. He has not worked since the surgery.
February 21, 2014, Swink filed an application for disability
insurance benefits under the Social Security Act (the
"Act"). See 42 U.S.C. § 423. He
alleged that his disability began on October 28, 2013. After
the SSA denied his application and a subsequent request to
reconsider, Swink requested a hearing on the matter before an
administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Swink's
request was granted, and a hearing was ultimately held on
March 21, 2016.
hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Swink and a vocational
expert. Swink testified that his back pain keeps him from
working, but he has some good days on which he is able to do
chores around his house and on rental properties he owns. He
said that he has not experienced a generalized seizure in
approximately three years due to medication. He explained
that he frequently has "spells," which he
characterizes as small seizures where his eyes
"float" and he "zone[s] out" and slurs
his speech or stutters. He stated that his anxiety is
heightened because of his medical conditions. The vocational
expert testified that there are over 1.2 million jobs in the
national economy for a hypothetical person with Swink's
limitations-a person who must avoid all hazards, can only
perform light, unskilled work, and can only occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and
allowed Swink to enter several medical records into evidence.
The records included reports from Swink's neurologists
regarding his seizure disorder, reports from a sports
medicine clinic and Mercy Hospital Fort Smith regarding his
back issues, and reports from two nurse practitioners
regarding his post-surgery back and general-health treatment.
The records showed that during the relevant period,
Swink's generalized seizures and anxiety were stable with
medications. They also showed that his back condition had
improved with surgery and he was clear to gradually increase
his activity. According to the records, Swink had normal
reflexes, mental status, muscle bulk, strength, and tone. His
gait was normal. He had "normal movement of all
extremities," though his lower back was tender.
also considered several medical opinions. These included a
physical capacity assessment from Swink's most recent
health-care provider, a nurse practitioner named Jonathan
Broniste. Disability-determination assessments the SSA had
prepared through medical and psychological consultants were
also included. Broniste opined that Swink had several
physical limitations that would affect his ability to
work-namely, Swink could only lift and carry up to 50 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; he could only sit for
two hours total in an eight-hour workday and for fifteen
minutes at a time; he could only be on his feet for a total
of five hours in an eight-hour workday; he would need to
avoid exposure to unprotected heights, moving machinery, and
marked temperature changes; and he could only occasionally
bend, squat, crawl, climb, stoop, crouch, or kneel. Broniste
also said that Swink would sometimes need to take unscheduled
breaks during a work shift and that Swink would likely miss
more than four work days per month. The consultants who
prepared the disability-determination assessments concluded
that Swink could perform light work with occasional climbing,
stooping, kneeling, crouching, balancing, and crawling. They
also said that Swink should avoid exposure to hazards and
that any limitations arising from his mental impairments were
no more than "mild."
took the case under advisement, allowing Swink to supplement
the record with materials he received from a recent visit
with his neurologist. The supplemental materials confirmed
that Swink's generalized seizures and anxiety disorder
were stable with medication and that he had a normal gait.
They also revealed that Swink's neurologist did not
believe Swink's spells were small seizures. According to
the neurologist, the spells were possibly the effect of an
undiagnosed attention deficit disorder ("ADD"). The
neurologist recommended testing for ADD and increased the
dose of Swink's seizure medication, apparently at
Swink's request and out of caution.
concluded that Swink was not under a disability as that term
is defined in the Act and denied his application.
Specifically, the ALJ found that Swink had "the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) except he [could only] occasionally stoop,
kneel, climb ramps and stairs, balance, crouch, and
crawl." The ALJ further found that Swink needed to
"avoid all exposure to hazards" and that he was
"limited to unskilled work."
requested that the SSA Appeals Council review the ALJ's
decision. The SSA Appeals Council denied the request,
rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Social Security Commissioner. Swink appealed to ...