Pruitt v. Social Security Administration
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS that the final decision of the Commissioner be reversed and the matter remanded for further evaluation of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity. Objections due no later than 14 days from the date of the findings and recommendations. Signed by Magistrate Judge Joe J. Volpe on 9/8/2021. (lej)
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
PATRINA S. PRUITT
Social Security Administration,
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION
This recommended disposition has been submitted to Chief United States District Judge
D. P. Marshall Jr. The parties may file specific objections to these findings and recommendations
and must provide the factual or legal basis for each objection. The objections must be filed with
the Clerk no later than fourteen (14) days from the date of the findings and recommendations. A
copy must be served on the opposing party. The district judge, even in the absence of objections,
may reject these proposed findings and recommendations in whole or in part.
Plaintiff, Patrina Pruitt, has appealed the final decision of Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration to deny her claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income. This review function is extremely limited. The Court’s function on review is
to determine whether the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial evidence on the
record as a whole and to analyze whether the plaintiff was denied benefits due to legal error. Long
v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997); see also, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence
is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Reynolds v. Chater, 82 F.3d 254, 257 (8th Cir.
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In assessing the substantiality of the evidence, the court must consider evidence that
detracts from the Commissioner’s decision as well as evidence that supports it; the court may not,
however, reverse the Commissioner’s decision merely because substantial evidence would have
supported an opposite decision. Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993).
The only disputed issue in this case is whether Plaintiff is disabled within the meaning of
the Social Security Act. Plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a physical or mental impairment
that has lasted twelve months or more and has prevented her from engaging in any substantial
gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 (d)(1)(A), 1382 (c)(3)(A)(B).
Ms. Pruitt was forty-six years old at the time of the administrative hearing. (Tr. 68.) She
is a high school graduate, (id.) and has a strong employment history. (Tr. 68-69.)
Plaintiff offers several arguments in support of her Complaint (Doc. No. 15 at 13-20) – all
tied to whether the ALJ’s residual functional capacity assessment is supported by substantial
evidence. The ALJ concluded Plaintiff is capable of performing a reduced range of sedentary
work. (Tr. 37-53.) But after careful review, I find the record fails to substantially support such
Ms. Pruitt has a strong work history. The medical evidence reveals she has actively sought
treatment – including surgeries – to try and improve her condition but the surgeries have had only
mixed results. (Tr. 982.) The objective diagnostic tests corroborate Ms. Pruitt’s allegations of
pain and limitation.
Her numerous imaging reports reveal she has moderate to severe
abnormalities with her back. (Tr. 448, 512-513, 725, 735-736, 1000-1001, 1123.)
Michael Hussey, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon, reported that he and spine specialist Justin
Seale, M.D. were treating Ms. Pruitt. (Tr. 1041.) Dr. Hussey states that Plaintiff’s shoulder
impairment “could be considered a temporary disability, but currently in [his] opinion is not a
permanent disability.” (Id.) The ALJ stated, “This opinion is vague, imprecise, and conclusory
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with little explanation. This opinion is not supported by or consistent with the medical records
presented at the hearing level.” (Tr. 50.) This may be true, but the ALJ failed to fairly assess the
entirety of Dr. Hussey’s treatment records. Dr. Hussey, stated, “. . . the majority of her symptoms
are coming from the cervical spine. The patient agrees with this assessment.” (Tr. 1136.)
However, the record has not been developed regarding Dr. Seale’s prognosis for Mr. Pruitt.
I am mindful of the fact it is Ms. Pruitt’s burden to prove her disability. However, given
her strong work history, diagnostic tests clearly showing abnormality with her back, and her
treating doctor opining that the majority of her symptoms come from her cervical spine, I find that
the decision of the Commissioner is not supported by substantial evidence.
This is a confounding case. And counsel for the Commissioner has made some strong
arguments in support of her position. (Doc. No. 16.) However, there is a critical piece of this case
missing - an opinion regarding Plaintiff’s cervical spine impairment. Thus, I find the ruling of
the Commissioner must be reversed and the matter remanded for further evaluation of Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity. On remand the Commissioner should develop the record with regard
to Plaintiff’s cervical spine issues and, possibly, obtain the opinion of Dr. Seale.
Commissioner should then determine Plaintiff's residual functional capacity.
IT IS THEREFORE RECOMMENDED that the final decision of the Commissioner be
reversed and the matter remanded for further evaluation of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity.
DATED this 8th day of September 2021.
JOE J. VOLPE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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