Shields v. SSA
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER; 1)Pla, Darlene Shields' 18 Motion to Alter Judgment is denied. Signed by Judge Joseph M. Hood on 7/19/2017. (LST)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
NORTHERN DIVISION at COVINGTON
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,1 Acting
Commissioner of Social Security, )
Civil No. 2:16-cv-170-JMH
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Shields’s Motion to Alter the Judgment [DE 18] entered in favor of
the Commissioner on May 11, 2017 [DE 16, 17].
The United States
having filed a Response in Opposition [DE 19], and Plaintiff having
submitted a Reply [DE 20], this matter is now ripe for the Court’s
For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff’s Motion is
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) permits a party to file
a motion to alter or amend a judgment within 28 days after the
“A court may grant a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or
amend if there is: (1) a clear error of law; (2) newly discovered
evidence; (3) an intervening change in controlling law; or (4) a
need to prevent manifest injustice.”
Intera Corp. v. Henderson,
The caption of this matter is amended to reflect that Nancy A. Berryhill became
the Acting Commissioner of Social Security on January 23, 2017, replacing
Carolyn W. Colvin in that role.
428 F.3d 605, 620 (6th Cir. 2005).
“[A] Rule 59(e) motion cannot
be used to ‘relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments … that
could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment,’ or ‘to reargue a case.’”
J.B.F. through Stivers v. Ky. Dept’ of Educ., --
F. App’x --, 2017 WL 2829101, at *1 (6th Cir. 2017) (quoting Exxon
Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 485 n. 5 (2008); Sault Ste.
Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians v. Engler, 146 F.3d 367, 374 (6th
Plaintiff urges the Court to amend its judgment in order to
correct a clear error of law.
Specifically, Plaintiff argues that
the Court erred in affirming the ALJ’s administrative decision to
deny benefits because it was not supported by substantial evidence.
because the ALJ failed to properly consider the medical evidence
in the record and substituted his own judgment for the medical
regurgitating the same arguments presented in her initial Motion
for Summary Judgment [DE 13], the Court could simply deny them as
Shipping Co., 554 U.S. at 485 n. 5.
However, the Court will
consider Plaintiff’s arguments out of an abundance of caution.
First, Plaintiff lists several pieces of medical evidence
that the ALJ allegedly disregarded, misstated, or downplayed.
example, Plaintiff notes that Dr. Eric Lohman performed a cardiac
catheterization on May 8, 2013, which revealed 40% stenosis of the
left anterior descending artery, with 20% stenosis of the right
A subsequent catheterization on
July 17, 2014 showed 30% to 40% stenosis of the left anterior
descending artery, with 30% stenosis of the first diagonal branch
and 20% stenosis of the mid left anterior descending artery, as
well as 20% to 30% stenosis of the right coronary artery.
The ALJ discussed these results in the hearing decision,
According to Plaintiff, “[t]he unstated
but very clear implication of the foregoing was that in the ALJ’s
own mind [Plaintiff’s] heart blockages were not significant from
a physical exertion standpoint … for the simple reason that
placement of stents had not been required.”
[DE 18 at 5].
Plaintiff emphasizes that “[n]o doctor provided an opinion to this
While no doctor explicitly opined that Plaintiff’s blockages
were less severe because they did not require stenting, the
treatment notes from the catheterizations do state that further
intervention was not required.
Plaintiff testified to this effect
The ALJ considered this information along with Dr.
Lohman’s substantial cardiac treatment notes, which indicated that
Plaintiff was responding well to medication and had less frequent
complaints of pain.
[TR 288-89, 413].
Dr. Lohman even said that
Plaintiff “was doing well from a cardiac standpoint.”
say that the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s cardiac condition did not
have an impact on her physical limitations because she did not
require stenting is itself a mischaracterization of the ALJ’s
The record reflects that the ALJ gave great weight to
Dr. Lohman’s treatment notes and used the information contained
therein to formulate Plaintiff’s RFC assessment.
was substantial evidence to support this aspect of the ALJ’s
decision, the Court’s decision to affirm was not a clear error of
The same is true of the ALJ’s handling of Plaintiff’s COPD
On October 20, 2014, Dr. Yuri Villaran of Baptist
Pulmonary & Critical Care compiled a Pulmonary Function Report for
After a follow up visit on May 26, 2015,
Dr. Villaran stated that Plaintiff was “actually doing fair.”
He also noted that Plaintiff’s lungs “[we]re clear to
auscultation, palpation and percussion.”
Plaintiff says that “the unstated but very clear implication
is that the ALJ simply did not want to believe that [her] COPD …
perspective.” [DE 18 at 6].
However, there is no indication in
the record that the ALJ downplayed the seriousness of her condition
simply by noting her lung sounds as well as her test results.
He not only classified it as a severe impairment, but he
Care diagnosed severe obstructive airways disease, and pulmonary
function studies showed significant deficits, although the actual
office examinations showed the lungs clear to auscultation and
He then included a limitation in Plaintiff’s
RFC that she could not tolerate smoke, fumes, or other pulmonary
substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s decision and, thus, that
the Court did not commit a clear error of law by affirming that
significance of EMG and nerve conduction studies performed on May
Dr. Gerald Eichhorn wrote that the
findings of these studies were “compatible with a moderate R>L
carpal tunnel syndrome.”
Similarly, Plaintiff insists
that the ALJ understated the significance of left knee x-rays that
revealed moderate osteoarthritis because he did not clarify that
her condition was tricompartmental, nor did he incorporate the
resulting limitations into her RFC assessment.
The ALJ noted both sets of findings in his administrative
He then stated that “[t]he residual
functional capacity provides significant postural and manipulative
For example, it states that
Plaintiff cannot work with her hands over her head, cannot operate
foot pedal controls, and cannot climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds.
incorporate these limitations into the RFC, to the extent that he
found them to be credible.
Moreover, Plaintiff has not identified
any additional limitations that the ALJ should have incorporated.
Accordingly, the Court finds that the ALJ decision was supported
by substantial evidence and that the Court’s affirmance of that
decision was not clear error.
Plaintiff also takes issue with the ALJ’s assessment of a
Radiology Report dated April 28, 2014, which states that “[a]t L34, there is a left foraminal protrusion impinging the exiting left
L4 nerve root.”
The ALJ noted that Plaintiff’s
“[l]umbar MRI on April 28, 2014 demonstrated moderate degenerative
changes at multiple levels.” [TR 25]. He later stated that “[t]he
deficits, though she does have degenerative changes.”
Plaintiff complains that the ALJ inaccurately summarized the MRI
While there does appear to be a mistake here, the Court
is hard-pressed to understand how it impacts the ALJ’s decision.
Even taking the nerve root impingement into account, the overall
“moderate degenerative changes” discussed by the ALJ and factored
administrative decision was not clear error.
Plaintiff’s second main argument focuses on the ALJ’s failure
to give great weight to any of the medical opinions. Specifically,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ’s RFC assessment cannot be supported
by substantial evidence because he did not give great weight to
any of the medical opinions.
As a preliminary matter, the Court
must clarify that the ALJ did give significant weight to Dr.
assessment. This approach was not inconsistent with the applicable
regulations, which do not require the ALJ do give any particular
weight to a physician’s opinion on an issue reserved to the
Commissioner, such as an RFC assessment.
Moreover, the regulations do not require an ALJ to give great
weight to at least one of the physician opinions in the record.
Instead, ALJs are directed to weigh these opinions using the
criteria set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527 and 20 C.F.R. §
The record indicates that the ALJ did just that.
Accordingly, there was substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s
This Court’s affirmance of that administrative decision
cannot be clear error under such circumstances.
As a final matter, Plaintiff says that the denial of benefits
results in manifest injustice because she is in very poor health.
While the Court is sympathetic to Plaintiff’s situation, it is
unable to grant her Motion unless its affirmance of the ALJ’s
administrative decision was clear error.
That was not the case
here, for the reasons stated above.
IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff Darlene Shields’s Motion to Alter
Judgment [DE 18] be, and is, hereby DENIED.
This the 19th day of July, 2017.
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