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Howell v. Social Security Administration

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

August 23, 2019

JESSE T. HOWELL PLAINTIFF
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION DEFENDANT

          RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

         This Recommended Disposition (Recommendation) has been sent to Judge Kristine G. Baker. Either party may file written objections to this Recommendation. If objections are filed, they 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 Baker can adopt this Recommendation without independently reviewing the record. By not objecting, parties may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.

         I. Introduction:

         On July 6, 2016, Jesse T. Howell applied for disability benefits, alleging disability beginning January 27, 2016. (Tr. at 15) His claims were denied both initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied Mr. Howell's application. (Tr. at 25) He 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 final decision of the Commissioner. Mr. Howell filed this case seeking judicial review of the decision denying his benefits.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Mr. Howell had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of January 27, 2016. (Tr. at 18) At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. Howell had the following severe impairments: status post compression fracture of the thoracic spine, traumatic brain injury, anxiety disorder, and affective disorder. Id.

         After finding that Mr. Howell's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 18), the ALJ determined that Mr. Howell had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at the light exertional level, with some additional limitations. (Tr. at 20) He could only occasionally stoop and crouch. Id. He could have contact with others incidental to the work performed, and he could perform work learned and performed by rote, with few variables, and requiring little judgment. Id. He would require simple, direct, and concrete supervision. Id. He was limited to work not requiring frequent verbal communications. Id.

         The ALJ found that, based on Mr. Howell's RFC, he was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. at 23) At step five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (VE) to find, based on Mr. Howell's age, education, work experience and RFC, that he was capable of performing work in the national economy as a can filling and closing machine tender, a power screwdriver operator, or an injection molding machine tender. (Tr. at 25) The ALJ determined, therefore, that Mr. Howell 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. Howell's Arguments on Appeal

         Mr. Howell maintains that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. He argues that the ALJ: did not fully develop the record; did not properly complete the Psychiatric Review Technique; did not give proper weight to his subjective complaints; and improperly discounted two residual functional capacity assessments from his treating doctor.

         Mr. Howell had complex compression fractures of the thoracic spine. (Tr. at 642, 658) An MRI of the thoracic spine showed moderate compression deformities of T3 and T4 vertebral bodies with approximately 50% loss of vertebral body height. (Tr. at 707) It also showed superior end plate compression along T2 and T5 vertebral bodies. Id ...


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