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Barton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 6, 2017

BRETT BARTON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This action is before the court for judicial review of the final decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying the application of plaintiff Brett Barton for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq., and supplemental security income under Title XVI of that act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq. The parties have consented to the exercise of plenary authority by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the final decision of the defendant Commissioner is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on June 17, 1972. (ECF No. 13 at 38) (Tr. 38). He filed his Title II and Title XVI applications on November 30, 2012, alleging an onset date of August 16, 2011, and alleging he was unable to work due to back problems, shaking from the waist up, and depression. (Tr. 59). Plaintiff's applications were denied on January 17, 2013 and thereafter he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Following the hearing on June 18, 2014, the ALJ denied plaintiff's applications. (Tr. 14-16). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.


         Plaintiff has a substantial employment history: as a Nurse Aide from 1991 to 1997, as a serviceman for a gas utility from 1998 to 1999, as a tire service mechanic from 2000 to 2003, as a janitorial supervisor from 2004 to 2006, and as an auto sales mechanic from 2007 to August 16, 2011. (Tr. 167).

         In August 2010 plaintiff took part in a sleep study at the Phelps County Regional Medical Center (Phelps County Regional) to address his sleep apnea problem. (Tr. 244-46). The doctor recommended plaintiff stop smoking, lose weight, and wear his CPAP machine. (Tr. 244). After complaining of headaches later that month, plaintiff received a CT scan which was negative. (Tr. 243).

         In mid-September 2010, plaintiff first began sporadic treatment for lower back pain. He received multi-level facet joint injections by Glenn Kunkel, M.D., at Phelps County Regional based on lumbosacral spondylosis without myelopathy. (Tr. 239).

         In October 2010, after complaining of neck pain plaintiff underwent MRIs of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine. (Tr. 231-34). The cervical MRI revealed disc extrusion at the C5/C6 level. The thoracic MRI revealed mild degenerative disc disease as well as mild foraminal narrowing at the T9/10 and T10/11 levels, but no evidence of any central canal stenosis. (Tr. 233-34). The lumbar MRI showed mild foraminal narrowing and no significant recurrent disc herniation. (Tr. 231).

         In January 2011, plaintiff received a series of facet injections due to radiating lower back pain. (Tr. 225-27). He also participated in a lumbar puncture study in March; however, no lab analysis was included in the record. (Tr. 222).

         On May 12, 2011, he had his tonsils removed. (Id.).

         On June 17, 2011, due to chest pain and shortness of breath plaintiff had a chest X-ray, which revealed no acute cardiopulmonary process. (Tr. 213). An associated EKG similarly showed no acute changes. (Tr. 211).

         On August 16, 2011, his alleged disability onset date, following an injury at his place of employment, plaintiff had an MRI of the lumbar spine at the Rolla Radiology Group. The MRI report showed some foraminal stenosis and a small posterior annular tear at the L4/L5 level, but no evidence of recurrent or residual disc herniation and no significant central spinal stenosis. (Tr. 369-71).

         From September through mid-November, 2011, plaintiff then underwent physical therapy at Sport Rehab, Inc. in Rolla, but quit because he felt he was not making any significant improvement. (Tr. 276-87, 45).

         In August of 2013, after complaining of more headaches and left-sided weakness, an MRI on plaintiff's brain was performed which was found to be “essentially unremarkable.” (Tr. 288).

         In early October 2013, plaintiff underwent a cardiovascular consultation with Dr. Timothy Martin, M.D., at Phelps County Regional Medical Center. (Tr. 323-27). Dr. Martin's physical examination showed, among other things, full range of motion in the neck, regular heart rate, no clubbing, cyanosis or edema in the extremities, and 5/5 motor strength. (Tr. 326). However, due to the uncertain etiology of his chest complaints a myocardial stress test was ordered. (Tr. 327).

         In mid-October 2013, the stress test was administered and revealed normal findings throughout. (Tr. 301-06). An associated rest lexiscan study at the time revealed similarly normal findings. (Tr. 299-300). An EKG at the same time revealed mild left atrial enlargement and mild pulmonary hypertension. (Tr. 301-02).

         In November and December of 2013, and in March of 2014, the plaintiff had follow-up visits with Dr. Martin which showed him making substantial ...

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