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Rogers v. Berryhill

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

July 29, 2019

SONDA ROGERS PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          ORDER

         Plaintiff Sonda Rogers (“Rogers”), 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), contends the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred: (1) by giving little or no weight to treating and examining physicians' opinions; (2) in determining her residual functional capacity (“RFC”); and (3) by failing to present a legally sufficient hypothetical question to elicit vocational evidence showing Rogers could perform jobs in the national economy. The parties have ably summarized the medical records and the testimony given at the administrative hearing conducted on November 30, 2016. (Tr. 99-113). 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 August 15, 2013, Rogers' alleged onset date, through March 22, 2017, when the ALJ ruled against Rogers.

         The Administrative Hearing:

         Rogers, who was 53 years old at the time of the administrative hearing, completed two years of college, and now lives alone. She quit working in August 2013, in part to be available for her partner of 23 years, who was ill with cancer and who died in January 2014. Rogers stated she does not cook, does some cleaning, drives but sometimes panics and gets confused behind the wheel, and has problems walking. Rogers estimated she could walk for about 10 minutes before having problems, and stated she is in “constant pain.” (Tr. 103). She testified to being unable to lift more than 10 pounds, and to being unable to bend and get back up. Rogers stated she takes Effexor for peripheral neuropathy, Xanax as needed, Hydrocodone three times a day, either Flexeril or Soma at night, Trazodone, and an allergy pill daily. She indicated she was not receiving any counseling or physical therapy, but attempting to manage her pain with medications. When Rogers quit working in 2013, she stated she was already having memory loss issues and missing work regularly. These problems became “dramatically worse” thereafter. (Tr. 108). Further, Rogers indicated her peripheral neuropathy has worsened. The main thing preventing her from work is “my memory capacity, panic - - terrible panic attacks” and “constant back pain.” (Tr. 109-110).

         Elizabeth Clem (“Clem”), a vocational expert, stated Rogers' past work as a receptionist was semi-skilled work performed at the sedentary exertional level, her past work as an office manager was skilled sedentary work, and her past work as an optometry technician was skilled light work. The ALJ posed a hypothetical question to Clem, asking her to assume a worker of Rogers' age, education, and experience, who could perform light work but only occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl, and kneel. Nonexertionally, the work would involve interpersonal contact that was incidental to the work performed (defined as a limited degree of interaction such as meeting and greeting the public, answering simple questions, accepting pay and making change), the complexity of tasks could be learned by demonstration or repetition within 30 days, the work would involve few variables, little judgment, and supervision would be simple, direct, and concrete. Clem responded that such a worker could not perform Rogers' past relevant jobs but could perform other jobs, such as cashier II or housekeeper. If the hypothetical question were changed to assume sedentary rather than light work, Clem identified no jobs which Rogers could perform. (Tr. 110-112).

         ALJ's Decision:

         In his March 22, 2017, decision, the ALJ determined Rogers had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, peripheral neuropathy, affective disorder, and anxiety disorder. The ALJ found Rogers did not meet any Listing, and specifically mentioned Listings 1.04, 11.14, 12.04, and 12.06. The ALJ considered the “paragraph B” criteria, finding Rogers had a moderate limitation in understanding, remembering, or applying, a moderate limitation in interacting with others, a moderate limitation with regard to concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace, and a mild limitation for adapting or managing oneself. The ALJ also found Rogers did not meet the “paragraph C” criteria. The ALJ further determined Rogers had the RFC to perform light work with the restrictions which mirrored those posed to Clem in the ALJ's hypothetical question. The ALJ noted Rogers' consistent work record. Also, the ALJ found the prescribing of narcotic, neuropathic, anti-inflammatory pain, and psychotropic medications was consistent with Rogers' subjective allegations of pain. The ALJ found, however, that the objective medical evidence did not support Rogers' complaints, and he also determined her testimony at the hearing was “vague and general, lacking the specificity, which might otherwise make it more persuasive.” (Tr. 83).

         The ALJ discussed the objective medical evidence, including the findings and opinions of treating physician Dr. Charles Davidson (“Davidson”), consultative examiner Dr. Roger L. Troxel (“Troxel”), consultative psychological examiner Dr. Vicki Caspall (“Caspall”), and state agency physicians and psychologists. The ALJ ultimately found Rogers' statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical and other evidence of record.

         Relying upon the testimony of Clem, the ALJ found Rogers unable to perform any of her past relevant work, and found she could perform the jobs of cashier II and housekeeper. Accordingly, the ALJ held Rogers was not disabled. (Tr. 77-88).

         Medical Evidence During the Relevant Period:

         Rogers was seen by treating physician Davidson on August 15, 2013, complaining of hives. Davidson noted a history of anxiety, and listed her current problems as generalized anxiety, depressive disorder not elsewhere classified, fatigue, hypothyroidism, plantar fasciitis, urticaria (“hives”), and vitamin B12 deficiency. Physical examination was unremarkable, with Davidson generally finding Rogers to be well developed, well nourished, and with no apparent distress. He diagnosed her with hives and generalized anxiety. (Tr. 368-369).

         Davidson saw Rogers for an earache on October 10, 2014. (Tr. 366-367). A follow up visit related to the earache occurred on October 23, 2014. (Tr. 364-366). On both visits, physical examination was unremarkable, with the exception of the earache, and Davidson again found Rogers to be well developed, well nourished, and with no apparent distress.

         Rogers saw Davidson on November 14, 2014, presenting with anxiety. Davison assessed her with generalized anxiety, vitamin B12 deficiency, and insomnia. Physical examination was unremarkable, with Davidson generally finding Rogers to be well developed, well nourished, and with no apparent distress. (Tr. 362-363).

         Rogers returned to Davison on December 17, 2014, for insomnia and anxiety. Davidson noted Rogers reported her anxiety was improved, controlled at this time. He assessed generalized anxiety and insomnia, and his physical findings were consistent with earlier visits. (Tr. 360-361).

         In March 2015, Rogers was seen for anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue. Davidson indicated Rogers' anxiety disorder was originally diagnosed more than 5 years ago. Rogers was assessed with generalized anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue, with no change in the physical examination. (Tr. 357-358). Two other May 2015 visits to Davidson addressed a ...


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