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Jordan v. Colvin

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

August 23, 2017




         This cause is before the Court regarding the appeal by Darryl D. Jordan, Jr., of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision affirming his Notice of Disability Cessation, which ended Jordan's 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 Jordan's claims (including the administrative decision, the medical records, and a transcript of the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ")), Plaintiff's Brief [10], and Defendant's Brief [14]. The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, and the District Judge has entered an Order of Reference [15]. 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.


         This proceeding is the appeal of the Social Security Administration's (“SSA”) determination that Jordan was no longer “disabled” as of December 31, 2013. [8] at 277-279.[1] Jordan, who was born on March 8, 1967, had been receiving disability insurance benefits since the SSA's October 23, 2008, partially favorable decision found him disabled as of August 1, 2006. Id. at 271, 273.

         Jordan first filed an application for a period of disability and disability benefits on June 28, 2005, alleging that he had been disabled since May 11, 2003. [8] at 10. After initial and reconsideration denials, the SSA issued, on October 23, 2008, a partially favorable decision concluding that Jordan had the severe impairments of diabetes, depressive disorder, pain disorder, and obesity. Id. at 262. In addition, the ALJ found that he had the severe impairment of “status post surgery on both arms” resulting from a May 2003 industrial accident that occurred while he was working as a boilermaker. Id. Specifically, Jordan fell while working and suffered radial head fractures in both elbows and a left proximal ulnar fracture, requiring surgery and months of follow-up care. Id. at 262, 266-267, 399. By June 2005, his fractures appeared to be healed, but there were some early degenerative changes. Id. at 12. Considering the evidence, the ALJ concluded that as of August 1, 2006, Jordan had a residual functional capacity for “less than the full range of even sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) due to a lack of ability to maintain concentration, persistence and pace or interact with others which results in an inability to meet the mental demands of any full-time work.” Id. at 269. Thus, the ALJ found Jordan to be disabled and awarded benefits beginning August 1, 2006. Id. at 273.

         On December 26, 2013, after conducting a continuing disability review, the SSA issued a Notice of Disability Cessation finding that Jordan's health had improved. Id. at 277. The Notice relayed that Jordan's disability would end as of December 31, 2013, and informed him that benefits would be terminated the last day of February 2014. Id. at 277. A Disability Hearing Officer upheld the decision on reconsideration. Id. at 275-276; 292-302. Jordan requested a hearing before an ALJ, and, after a hearing, the ALJ issued a decision on July 2, 2015, affirming the cessation of benefits. Id. at 10-22. The Appeals Council denied his request for review on March 23, 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 Jordan's records in their briefs, and the ALJs have provided thorough summaries in their decisions. Nevertheless, a review of the observations and evaluations of certain examiners will aid in the consideration of this case.

         The most recent records consist of medical treatment notes from 2013 to 2014 and a consultative mental status evaluation from November 2013. Id. at 399-403, 423-501. Beginning in July 2013, Jordan sought treatment from Dr. Blaine Britt of the Britt Medical Group, Brookhaven, Mississippi. Id. at 423-501. Dr. Britt assessed that Jordan had type II diabetes, essential benign hypertension, mixed hyperlipidemia, unspecified backache, and panic disorder without agoraphobia. Id. at 444. At that time, the doctor noted that Jordan was six feet, one inch tall, and weighed two hundred fifty-seven pounds. Id. at 443. Dr. Britt prescribed a variety of medications to treat these conditions: pioglitazone, metformin, Lisinopril, Crestor, Lorcet, and Xanax. Id. at 444. Dr. Britt examined Jordan on eight occasions between July 2, 2013, and May 16, 2014. Id. at 426, 430, 434, 438, 442, 459, 463, and 467.

         On January 21, 2014, Dr. Britt completed a disability report form and concluded that the following systems were normal: eyes, ears, nose, and throat; lungs; heart; vascular; abdomen; genitourinary; neurological; and psychological/psychiatric. Id. at 423. Dr. Britt noted that Jordan's musculoskeletal system was abnormal. Id. Dr. Britt remarked that “[d]iabetes, cholesterol, [and] anxiety are all treated [with] medication. As long as [patient] is taking his meds, he should have no trouble [with] any of these. In regards to his back pain, he is treated [with] pain medication and we did make a neurosurgery referral.” Id.

         On February 7, 2014, Dr. Britt ordered MRIs of Jordan's right shoulder and lumbar spine. Id. at 483-485. The MRI of Jordan's right shoulder revealed a “partial tear of the supraspinatus tendon with intrasubstance fraying at the level of the conjoined tendon, ” a partial tear of the subscapularis tendon, and “[l]abral degeneration and tear of the anterior labrum and anterior superior labrum.” Id. at 483. The MRI of his lumbar spine showed “[c]hanges of osteoarthritis with mild disc disease at ¶ 4-L5 and L5-S1.” Id. at 485.

         Finally, in May 2014, Dr. Britt authored a letter that stated that Jordan “is a patient of mine being treated for diabetes, high cholesterol, anxiety with panic attacks, hypertension, and chronic back and shoulder pain[.] His chronic back pain and his anxiety disorder prevent him from maintaining a full time job[.]” Id. at 458.

         On November 26, 2013, Randy S. Burke, Ph.D., conducted a comprehensive mental status evaluation of Jordan at the request of the Office of Disability Determination Services. Id. at 399-403. Dr. Burke observed that Jordan's “posture was straight and his gait was slow but otherwise within normal limits.” Id. at 399. He noted that there was no evidence of involuntary movements or invalidism, and that Jordan was very cooperative. Id. Dr. Burke concluded that Jordan “meets the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder, as well as an anxiety disorder not otherwise specified. The claimant's mood and anxiety symptoms are likely to have at least some negative impact on his ability to function in normal work settings and interact with coworkers.” Id. at 402. Burke further encouraged Jordan “to consider working with a mental health provider as he or she might be able to identify strategies to alleviate some of the claimant's mood, anxiety and pain symptoms.” Id. Burke concluded that Jordan's “symptoms are likely to persist for the next 12 months” and that Jordan “is considered to have adequate capacity to independently manage any funds he may receive.” Id.


         In his July 2, 2015, decision, the ALJ evaluated Jordan's conditions using an eight-step evaluation process employed by the SSA to determine if a claimant continues to be disabled, as set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f).[2] The ALJ observed that through December 31, 2013, Jordan had not engaged in substantial gainful activity. Id. at 13. He evaluated the medical evidence and found that Jordan had medically determinable impairments of effects of left arm surgery, effects of right shoulder partial tear, diabetes, hypertension, osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine, obesity, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder. Id. After comparing the medical and mental health evidence to the criteria of the Listings for certain fractures (§ 1.07), obesity (SSA Ruling 02-1p), and depression and anxiety (§§ 12.04 and 12.06), the ALJ concluded that Jordan's impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of the Listings. Id. at 14. Rather, the ALJ determined that the medical evidence supported a finding that there had been a decrease in medical severity, or, in simpler terms, that Jordan had shown medical improvement since the 2008 decision finding him disabled. Id. at 15.[3]

         In determining that Jordan had shown medical improvement, the ALJ pointed out that the medical record demonstrated that Jordan's gait and station were normal, and that he had normal movement in all extremities, even though he complained of pain. Id. Jordan reported that he could independently eat and bathe, drive and go to the store, although he also reported that he could not walk, bend his elbows, and had difficulty putting on clothes. Id. With regard to his mental abilities, Jordan reported that his medication helped him with his mood, and a consultative examiner found he could pay bills, manage money, and that his mental abilities were mostly intact. Id.

         The ALJ observed that Jordan reported that his pain medication provided some relief from pain, and that his antidepressant helped his mood. Id. at 19. The ALJ stated that although Jordan denied being able to do housework or hobbies, he socialized some with friends and family, went to casinos, managed to fish, and could drive, go shopping, and pay bills. Id. The ALJ also noted that Jordan was driving a family tractor when he was involved in a collision, which suggested “that he may take greater part in the work of his family farm than just watching.” Id.

         Based on the medical records, the ALJ determined that Jordan's physical and mental condition had improved to the point where he could perform light work with certain limitations. Id. at 15. More specifically, the ALJ determined that Jordan had the residual functional capacity to perform light work, lift 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; sit, stand and walk for 6 hours each in an 8 hour work day; occasionally stoop and climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; occasionally reach overhead with bilateral upper extremities; must avoid concentrated exposure to noise (with a noise intensity level no more than three as per the Selected Characteristics of Occupations), and hazards (including dangerous moving machinery and unprotected heights); could perform simple, routine repetitive tasks of unskilled work; maintain concentration and attention for two-hour blocks; could interact frequently with supervisors and co-workers and occasionally with the general public; and low stress work (with no fast paced production requirements, simple work-related decisions, with few or no changes in the work setting). Id. at 16.

         The ALJ determined that Jordan is unable to perform his past relevant work as a boilermaker, which was classified as heavy, skilled work. Id. at 20. Because Jordan was born on March 8, 1967, he was considered a younger individual as of December 31, 2013. Id. The ALJ observed that Jordan had a high school education. Id. Considering Jordan's age, education, and the finding that he could perform light work with certain limitations, the ALJ determined that Jordan could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. Id. After consulting with a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that Jordan could perform the light, unskilled jobs of mail clerk, cleaner/housekeeper, and house sitter. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Jordan's disability ended as of December 31, 2013. Id. at 21.


         This Court's review is limited to an inquiry into whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's findings, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971), and whether the correct legal standards were applied, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006). Accord Falco v. Shalala, 27 F.3d 160, 163 (5th Cir. 1994); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, ...

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