Wood v. SSA
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: It is hereby ordered 16 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by Daryl L Wood be OVERRULED and Defendant's 20 MOTION for Summary Judgment by SSA be SUSTAINED. A judgment in favor of the Defendant will be entered contemporaneously herewith. Signed by Judge Henry R. Wilhoit, Jr on 3/14/2014.(TED)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
Civil Action No. 12-127-HRW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
Plaintiff has brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) to challenge
a final decision of the Defendant denying Plaintiffs application for supplemental
security income benefits. The Court having reviewed the record in this case and
the dispositive motions filed by the parties, and being otherwise sufficiently
advised, for the reasons set forth herein, finds that the decision of the
Administrative Law Judge is supported by substantial evidence and should be
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff filed his current application for supplemental security income
benefits on February 17,2009, alleging disability beginning on January 2,2009,
due to heart problems, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, emphysema,
problems with his legs, right arm, and shoulder, and diabetes (Tr. 235,242,250).
This application was denied initially and on reconsideration (Tr. 94-106, 113
On January 31, 2011, an administrative hearing was conducted by
Administrative Law Judge Larry Temin (hereinafter "ALJ"), wherein Plaintiff,
accompanied by counsel, testified. At the hearing, Robert Breslin, a vocational
expert (hereinafter "VE"), also appeared.
At the hearing, pursuant to 20 C.F .R. § 416.920, the ALJ performed the
following five-step sequential analysis in order to determine whether the Plaintiff
Step 1: If the claimant is performing substantial gainful work, he is not
Step 2: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful work, his
impairment(s) must be severe before he can be found to be disabled based
upon the requirements in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b).
Step 3: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful work and has a
severe impairment (or impairments) that has lasted or is expected to last for
a continuous period of at least twelve months, and his impairments (or
impairments) meets or medically equals a listed impairment contained in
Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No.4, the claimant is disabled without
Step 4: If the claimant's impairment (or impairments) does not prevent him
from doing his past relevant work, he is not disabled.
Step 5: Even if the claimant's impairment or impairments prevent him from
performing his past relevant work, if other work exists in significant
numbers in the national economy that accommodates his residual functional
capacity and vocational factors, he is not disabled.
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 18-26). Plaintiff
was 51 years old on the date the application was filed (Tr. 18-26, 200). Plaintiff
has a ninth grade (limited) education (Tr. 60) and past relevant work experience as
a truck driver (Tr. 64,236-237).
At Step 1 of the sequential analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of his application for
benefits (Tr. 20).
The ALJ then determined, at Step 2, that Plaintiff suffers from obesity, left
knee degenerative changes, bilateral lower extremity neuropathy, chronic venous
congestion of the lower extremities, diabetes mellitus II and atrial fibrillation,
which he found to be "severe" within the meaning of the Regulations (Tr. 20-21).
At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or
medically equal any of the listed impairments (Tr. 21). In doing so, the ALJ
specifically considered listings 1.02, 9.08 and 4.11 (Tr. 21).
The ALJ further found that Plaintiff could not return to his past relevant
work (Tr. 25) but determined that he has the residual functional capacity ("RFC")
to perform work at the light exertionallevel with certain restrictions (Tr. 21).
Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could sit up to six hours during an eight
hour workday, stand and walk up to six hours during an eight hour workday, two
hours at a time with the option to sit for five minutes, occasionally stoop, kneel,
crouch, and climb ramps or stairs, but could not crawl, balance, or climb
ladders/ropes/scaffolds (Tr. 21). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff should avoid
work around unprotected heights, hazardous machinery, or concentrated exposure
to fume (Tr. 21).
The ALJ finally concluded that these jobs exist in significant numbers in
the national and regional economies, as identified by the VE (Tr. 25-26).
Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not to be disabled at Step 5 of the sequential
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and adopted the
ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff thereafter filed this civil action seeking a reversal of the
Commissioner's decision. Both parties have filed Motions for Summary Judgment
[Docket Nos. 16 and 20] and this matter is ripe for decision.
Standard of Review
The essential issue on appeal to this Court is whether the ALJ's decision is
supported by substantial evidence. "Substantial evidence" is defined as "such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion;" it is based on the record as a whole and must take into account
whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight. Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d
383,387 (6 th Cir. 1984). lfthe Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence, the reviewing Court must affirm. Kirk v. Secretary ofHealth
and Human Services, 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957
(1983). "The court may not try the case de novo nor resolve conflicts in evidence,
nor decide questions of credibility." Bradley v. Secretary ofHealth and Human
Services, 862 F.2d 1224, 1228 (6 th Cir. 1988). Finally, this Court must defer to the
Commissioner's decision "even if there is substantial evidence in the record that
would have supported an opposite conclusion, so long as substantial evidence
supports the conclusion reached by the ALJ." Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273
Plaintiff's Contentions on Appeal
Plaintiff contends that the ALI's finding of no disability is erroneous
because the ALJ improperly discounted the opinion of his treating physician, Dr.
Soumya Janarnden. He also contends that remand is warranted in order to
consider medical evidence submitted to the Appeals Council, after the ALJ issued
Analysis of Contentions on Appeal
Plaintiffs first claim of error is that ALJ improperly discounted the opinion
of his treating physician, Dr. Soumya Janarnden.
In order to be given controlling weight, the opinions of a treating source on
issues involving the nature and severity of a claimant's impairments must be well
supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques,
and be consistent with other substantial evidence in the case record. 20 C.F .R. §
416.927( d)(2). Such opinions receive deference only if they are supported by
sufficient medical data. Harris v. Heckler, 756 F.2d 431,435 (6 th Cir. 1985).
In September 2010, Dr. Janamden completed a Medical Assessment of
Ability to Do Work-Related Activities (Physical)(Tr. 361-63). Dr. Janarnden
found that Plaintiff could lift occasionally 5-10 pounds, frequently lift very little
weight (Tr. 361). She cited Plaintiffs left knee tenderness, tender left heel, right
shoulder pain, finger stiffness, chronic back pain, and elevated rheumatoid factor
support for her findings (Tr. 361). Dr. Janamden also found Plaintiff could stand
and walk for 1.5 hours, and stand and walk without interruption for less than
fifteen minutes (Tr. 361). She also found Plaintiff could sit for 10-15 minutes
without interruption but could never climb, stoop, kneel, balance, crouch, crawl
(Tr.362). Dr. Janarnden said that Plaintiffs impairments affected his ability to
reach, push, and pull (Tr. 362). She also said that Plaintiffs balance was risky due
to neuropathy in his feet, which affected his ability to work around heights (Tr.
363). In sum, Dr. Janarnden suggested extreme limitation in function, beyond
that contemplated by the ALl's RFC assessment.
The ALJ declined to afford this opinion controlling weight, finding it to be
inconsistent with the other credible medical evidence of record. The Court agrees.
For example, The ALJ noted it was reasonable to limit Plaintiffs lifting and
carrying because of his obesity, shortness of breath, knee pain, venous congestion,
and neuropathy, but found that the medical evidence did not support a restriction
of lifting ten pounds or less on an occasional basis (Tr. 24). Plaintiff s treatment
records only documented some knee tenderness and lower extremity edema (Tr.
23,319,291-293,308,318-319,333,335,339-340, 386). Plaintiff had numerous
musculoskeletal complaints, but physical examinations, including Dr. Mays'
report, revealed no muscle weakness, atrophy, motor, sensory, or reflex
abnormalities indicative of a debilitating pain or musculoskeletal impairment (Tr.
291,308,328.334,378). Dr. Mays reported that Plaintiff had full range of motion
in all extremities and in the spine, normal strength bilaterally, and that he
ambulated without any assistive device (Tr. 308). Dr. Mays noted Plaintiff had no
issues with fine motor skills or difficulty with sitting, standing, or walking (Tr.
308). Based on the evidence of record, the ALJ properly rejected Dr. Janamden's
findings in this area.
In addition, the ALJ found Dr. Janamden's extreme restriction of 1.5 hours
of walking per day was inconsistent with evidence that Plaintiff had a normal gait
and strength and did not need an ambulatory aid (Tr. 24). Plaintiffs x-rays
revealed no bony abnormalities, fractures, and only slight curvature of the lumbar
spine and only some minor osteophyte or bony spur changes, and no acute
fractures in his left knee (Tr. 310-311). Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not
have an inability to ambulate effectively, to perform fine and gross movements
effectively, or had sustained disturbance of gross and dexterous movements or gait
and station (Tr. 21).
As for Dr. Janamden's findings pertaining to lifting and carrying, the ALJ
correctly observed that Dr. Janamden based her limitations largely on her
observation of Plaintiffs shoulder pain, elevated rheumatoid factor, finger
stiffness (Tr. 24). The ALJ noted that none of these factors were established by the
evidence and Plaintiff did not demonstrate a problem using his hands and arms
Given that Dr. Janamden's opinion is at odds with other medical evidence,
the Court's find no error in the ALJ's rejection of it.
As for Plaintiff's contention that it was inappropriate for the ALJ to rely
upon the opinion of consultative examiner Dr. Rana Mays, this contention is
without merit. In this case, the ALJ was faced with the "not uncommon situation
of conflicting medical evidence," and the ALJ, as the trier of fact, properly
performed his duty to resolve that conflict. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
399 (1971); see also Collins v. Comm'r a/Soc. Sec., 357 F. App'x 663,670 (6th
Cir. 2009) ("It is the ALJ's place, and not the reviewing court's, to resolve conflicts
in evidence." (internal quotations omitted)). While the ALJ gave greater weight
to the RFC opinion of a consulting examiner (Tr. 23-24), the ALJ explained the
basis for his findings (Tr. 27). The ALJ found Dr. Mays' examination was the
most detailed in the record and was not inconsistent with any other clinical
examination or objective study (Tr. 25). Because Dr. Mays' findings were
supported by and consistent with the evidence in the record, the ALJ properly gave
significant weight to Dr. Mays' findings (Tr. 24-25).
Plaintiff also contends that remand is warranted in order to consider
medical evidence submitted to the Appeals Council, after the ALJ issued his
Sentence six of 42 U.S.C. §405(g) provides:
The court ... may at any time order additional evidence
be taken before the Commissioner of Social Security, but
only upon a showing that there is new evidence which is
material and that there is good cause for the failure to
incorporate such evidence into the record in a prior
42 U.S.C. §405(g). However, the limited circumstances under which
remands are permitted arise when the party seeking remand shows that: (1) there is
new, non-cumulative evidence: (2) the evidence is "material" - Le., both relevant
and probative, so that there is a reasonable possibility that it would change the
administrative result; and, (3) there is good cause for failure to submit the
evidence at the administrative level. Willis v. Secretary ofHealth and Human
Services, 727 F.2d 551,554 (6 th • Cir. 1984). While it is not, generally, difficult for
a party seeking remand to show that evidence is new, it is, generally, onerous to
demonstrate that the new evidence is material.
In the instant case, Plaintiff has failed to show that the new evidence is
materiaL The additional medical evidence covering treatment from February 2011
to February 2012 concerns Plaintiffs heart condition and resulting symptoms.
However, the materiality of it is questionable because the ALJ had already
considered Plaintiffs peripheral neuropathy when he acknowledged that the
evidence established bilateral lower extremity neuropathy, as well as left knee
degenerative changes, chronic venous congestion of the lower extremities, and
obesity (Tr. 20). It was also considered by the ALJ in an analysis of Plaintiffs
degenerative changes in his left knee, bilateral lower extremity neuropathy,
chronic venous congestion of the lower extremities, and atrial fibrillation. Indeed,
the ALJ found these were severe impairments (Tr. 20, Finding No.2). Moreover,
in his decision the ALJ discussed how Plaintiff complained of heel and lateral foot
pain with walking, right greater than the left, and left knee and leg pain beginning
in 2009, which he claimed was worsened by sitting, standing, walking, and
climbing stairs (Tr. 23, 318-319). Plaintiff reported that because of his pain, he
took Percocet more frequently and elevated his legs (Tr. 23, 318-319). It is clear
from the ALJ's decision that ALJ has already accounted for Plaintiff s neuropathy
and atrial fibrillation in his findings and further considered the limitations caused
by Plaintiff s neuropathy and leg pain in formulating the RFC. AS such, the Court
finds that the additional evidence is not likely to change the ALJ's decision and is
thus, not material. Therefore, remand is not warranted.
The Court finds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence
on the record. Accordingly, it is HEREBY ORDERED that the Plaintiffs
Motion for Summary Judgment be OVERRULED and the Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment be SUSTAINED. A judgment in favor of the Defendant
will be entered contemporaneously herewith.
This 14th day of March, 2014.
Henry R. Wilhoit, Jr., Senior Judge
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