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Milam v. Colvin

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 24, 2015

Tracy Milam, Plaintiff - Appellant
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant - Appellee

Submitted April 13, 2015.

Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock.

For Tracy Milam, Plaintiff - Appellant: Anthony W. Bartels, Attorney, Jonesboro, AR; Eugene Gregory Wallace, Campbell University School of Law, Raleigh, NC.

For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant - Appellee: Stacey E. McCord, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Arkansas, Little Rock, AR; Adrial B. McField, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, Michael McGaughran, Eric Bradford Tucker, Assistant Regional Counsel, Social Security Administration, Office of General Counsel Region VI, Dallas, TX.

Before BYE, BEAM, and SMITH, Circuit Judges. BYE, Circuit Judge, dissenting.


Page 979

SMITH, Circuit Judge.

Tracy Milam appeals the district court's[1] affirmance of an Administrative

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Law Judge's (ALJ) denial of Milam's application for social security disability insurance benefits. We affirm.

I. Background

Milam applied for disability insurance benefits on July 12, 2011. She identified her disability onset date as August 31, 2009--the same day her employer laid her off. Prior to the layoff, Milam had worked for 20 years, most recently as a secretary/administrative assistant. Milam alleges that she is now totally disabled because of back pain, knee pain, hip pain, and osteoporosis.

A. Milam's Medical History

On August 6, 2007, Milam visited Dr. Brent Sprinkle, D.O., complaining of " [c]ervical pain, some low back pain, [and] intermittent tingling." Dr. Sprinkle tested both her upper and lower extremities and found no significant limitation in range of motion, no evidence of instability, no gross misalignments, and no strength deficits. He also tested her neck and upper spine and found no strength deficits and no significant limitations on flexion, extension, rotation, or side-bending. His examination of her lumbar spine, however, revealed decreased motion and thoracic scoliosis. Dr. Sprinkle ultimately diagnosed " [i]diopathic scoliosis status post fusion in the 1970s." [2]

Dr. Sprinkle then ordered an MRI of Milam's cervical spine. The MRI revealed a " straightening of the cervical spine without sublaxation" and that Milam's " cervical cord [was] normal in signal throughout." The MRI indicated that " [m]ild disc/osteophyte complex[es]" were causing " minimal" or " mild" canal narrowing at the C3-C4, C4-C5, and C6-C7 discs. The MRI likewise indicated that " [b]road disc/osteophyte complex[es were] caus[ing] mild to moderate canal narrowing, and appear[ed] to contact the anterior cord. . . . Mild indentation of the anterior cord [was] noted without signal abnormality."

Milam returned to Dr. Sprinkle on August 16, 2007. He diagnosed cervical degenerative disc disease. He opined that Milam's " pain is more muscle spasm related since about two minutes post trigger point injection her pain was considerably reduced."

Milam visited Dr. Sprinkle again on September 14, 2007. Dr. Sprinkle administered a trigger point injection, prescribed Zanaflex (a muscle relaxant) and Ultram ER (a pain reliever), and recommended a return visit in three to four weeks.

When Milam returned to Dr. Sprinkle on October 12, 2007, Dr. Sprinkle noted that the trigger point injection " seem[ed] to have made a huge difference" and that Milam was " not taking the Zanaflex." He then cleared her to return to work.

Milam did not seek treatment from Dr. Sprinkle again for her back pain until June 3, 2011--nearly four years later, and nearly two years after she claims she became disabled. During this visit, Milam informed Dr. Sprinkle that she " want[ed] to pursue disability." Dr. Sprinkle's exam revealed no strength deficits, no instability, and no significant loss of range of motion except for a certain " decreased range of motion" in her lumbar spine. He also noted " [d]iffuse myofascial trigger points" and " bilateral lumbar paraspinal trigger points." An x-ray showed that " previous spinal hardware for thoracic scoliosis . . . appear[ed] to be in good position" and that " some mild degenerative is above and below her hardware." Milam was " concerned that her pain [had] progressed," and Dr. Sprinkle noted " some progression of degenerative changes . . . above and below the level of her hardware infusion."

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Dr. Sprinkle opined that Milam could not " tolerate sedentary work that requires prolonged sitting." Dr. Sprinkle noted during the same visit, however, that Milam " has a moderate activity level. Exercise includes walking and weights. Exercises 3-4 times a week. Exercises 0-5 hours per week." He recommended that she continue the " home exercise program" and return for treatment " as needed."

About this time, Milam began keeping a " Pain and Function Journal." She continued making periodic entries until September 26, 2012. Milam's periodic entries generally noted that she experienced pain, headaches, stiffness, shortness of breath, and fevers. She usually rated her pain on a zero-to-ten scale. She rated her pain somewhere between zero and six on the significant majority of days in which she recorded any pain; in contrast, she rated her pain as a nine or ten only three times throughout the approximately 16-month period.

On June 17, 2011, Milam visited Dr. David Shenker, M.D., at a women's clinic to obtain an annual examination. She denied, among other things, any tingling, numbness, muscular weakness, ...

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