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Howard v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division

August 15, 2017




         This cause is before the Court regarding the appeal by Loyce Lavoid Howard, Jr., of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Howard's application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). In rendering this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court has carefully reviewed the Administrative Record [8] regarding Howard's claims (including the administrative decision, the medical records, and a transcript of the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ")), Appellant's Brief [13], Defendant's Motion to Affirm Commissioner's Decision [14], Memorandum Brief [15], and Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to the Motion to Affirm [19]. The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, and the District Judge has entered an Order of Reference [20]. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73.

         For the reasons discussed in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed. Accordingly, the Motion to Affirm [14] is granted.


         Howard filed his application for a period of disability and DIB on April 1, 2013, and alleged a disability onset date of July 10, 2010, when he was fifty-three years of age. [8] at 15.[1]Howard's earning record demonstrated that he had acquired sufficient quarters of coverage to remain insured through December 31, 2015. Id. at 9.

         Howard, who completed high school, was born on March 27, 1957. Id. at 15, 46. He was fifty-eight years of age on the date he was last insured. Id. at 15. From 1996 to his disability onset date of July 10, 2010, Howard worked as a driller in the offshore oil industry at various international locations. Id. at 12, 47-48.

         In his request for disability, Howard alleged that he is disabled and stopped working due to a grand mal seizure disorder and breakthrough seizures. Id. at 135. His initial disability determination described him as being of “advanced age” and stated that Howard alleged disability due to seizures and sleep apnea. Id. at 63. In his application, Howard stated that he was six feet tall and weighed two hundred twenty-five pounds. Id.

         The Social Security Administration denied Howard's application initially and upon reconsideration. Id. at 67, 70. Howard requested a hearing, which was held on December 1, 2014, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Id. at 44. On December 22, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Howard was not disabled. Id. at 9-16. The Appeals Council denied his request for review on April 28, 2016, id. at 1, and this appeal followed.


         The Court has determined that a detailed recitation of the medical records is not necessary because the parties summarized Howard's records in their briefs, and the ALJ provided thorough summaries in his decision. Nevertheless, a review of the observations and evaluations of certain examiners will aid in the consideration of this case.

         The records demonstrate that Howard sought treatment for seizures from Dr. Ruth Fredericks beginning in 2006, and on a consistent basis from 2009 to 2014. Id. at 244, 265, 297. During this time period, Howard reported experiencing seizures on May 1, 2006, and July 12, 2010. Id. at 244, 262. He also reported an “episode” that occurred on June 28, 2012, in which he woke up, his bed was made, and he was fully dressed, presumably with no memory of those events. Id. at 295. Dr. Fredericks treated Howard on an ongoing basis with a combination drugs, and she reported throughout her notes that he had had no seizures, with the exceptions previously noted. In her most recent treatment note dated November 17, 2014, Dr. Fredericks stated that Howard was doing well and that he had had no seizures, although she stated that he was not driving. Id. at 297.

         In July 2012, Dr. Fredericks referred Howard to Dr. Timothy Cannon, a pulmonologist with Sleep Solutions, located in Jackson, Mississippi, for treatment of sleep apnea. Id. at 279-289, 295. After testing, Dr. Cannon diagnosed Howard with severe obstructive sleep apnea. Id. at 287. After further sleep studies using a CPAP machine, Dr. Cannon found that Howard had a good response to the CPAP with improvement in his sleep apnea symptoms. Id. at 289.

         In May 2012, Dr. Fredericks ordered an MRI of Howard's brain with and without contrast. Id. at 270. The radiologist's impression was “minimal right frontal sinus disease; otherwise, unremarkable MRI brain without/with gadolinium.” Id.


         In his December 22, 2014, decision, the ALJ evaluated Howard's impairments using the familiar sequential evaluation process[2] and found that he has the severe impairments of seizure disorder; obstructive sleep apnea, and obesity. Id. at 11. The ALJ also considered the combined effect of these impairments and determined that they did not, singly or in combination, meet or medically equal the criteria for any listed impairment. Id. at 11-12.

         After considering the record, the ALJ found that Howard has the residual functional capacity to “perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: he is limited to work requiring no exposure to unprotected heights and hazardous machinery. He cannot ...

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