Land v. SSA
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: It is HEREBY ORDERED that the Pla's 6 Motion for Summary Judgment be OVERRULED and Dft's 7 Motion for Summary Judgment be SUSTAINED. A judgment will be entered. Signed by Judge Henry R. Wilhoit, Jr. on 02/22/2013.(DAK)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
Civil Action No. 12-1-HRW ' .
MEMORANDUM OPINIQN 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 Plaintiff's 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
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On December 8, 2009 Plaintiff protectively filed an application for
supplemental security income benefits and disability insurance benefits (Tr. 151
158). She alleged disability beginning on July 1, 2008, due to a back condition,
arthritis in lower back and hips and fibroids in lower back and stomach (Tr. 184).
This application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Upon request of
Plaintiff, an administrative hearing was conducted by Administrative Law Judge
Roger Reynolds (hereinafter "ALJ"), wherein Plaintiff, accompanied by counsel,
testified. At the hearing, Joyce Forest, a vocational expert (hereinafter "VB"), also
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 found that Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 10-20). Plaintiff was 51
years old at the time of the hearing decision. She has a high school education and
past work experience as a cashier, stocker, truck driver, factory packer and farm
At Step 1 of the sequential analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of disability
The ALJ then determined, at Step 2, that Plaintiff suffers from chronic low
back pain with degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and mild
spondylolisthesis at L4 / L5, a history of uterine fibroids and bursitis in her right
hip, which he found to be "severe" within the meaning of the Regulations (Tr. 13
At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs impairments did not meet or
medically equal any of the listed impairments (Tr. 14). In doing so, the ALJ
specifically considered listings 1.00, 1.02, 1.03, 1.04 and 1.06 (Tr. 14-17).
The ALJ further found that Plaintiff could not return to her past relevant
work (Tr. 18) but determined that she has the residual functional capacity
("RFC") to perform light and sedentary work with no climbing of ropes, ladders,
or scaffolds, occasional climbing of stairs or ramps, and no work with hands over
the head (Tr. 17). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff required a sit-stand option
with no prolonged standing or walking in excess of one hour without interruption,
no operation of foot pedal controls, and no exposure to concentrated vibration or
industrial hazards (Tr. 17). The ALJ further restricted Plaintiff to occasional
bending, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling (Tr. 17).
The ALJ finally concluded that these jobs exist in significant numbers in
the national and regional economies, as identified by the VE (Tr. 19).
Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not to be disabled at Step 5 of the
sequential evaluation process.
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff s request for review and adopted the
ALl'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. 6 and 7] and this matter is ripe for decision.
Standard of Review
The essential issue on appeal to this Court is whether the ALl'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). If the 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 (6 th 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 ALl." Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270,273
Plaintiff's Contentions on Appeal
Plaintiff contends that the ALl's finding of no disability is erroneous
because: (1) the ALl failed to discuss the weight he gave to the medical opinions
in the record, (2) the ALl did not properly consider Plaintiff's obesity, (3) the ALl
did not properly evaluate Plaintiff's credibility and (4) the hypothetical question
posed to the VE by the ALl was incomplete [Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support
of Summary Judgment, Docket No.6, pg. 2] .
Analysis of Contentions on Appeal
Plaintiff s first claim of error is that the ALJ failed to discuss the weight he
gave to the medical opinions in the record.
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).
Plaintiff s treating physician, Dr. William Davis, completed a residual
functional capacity assessment in which he opined Plaintiff retained a maximum
tolerance for sustained, reliable work activity for less than eight hours in a
workday (Tr. 419). He suggested that Plaintiff s mental symptoms rendered her
unable to work (Tr. 416-42). With regard to her physical capacity, he opined that
Plaintiff could walk, stand, and sit less than one hour on a regular basis (Tr. 419).
He stated that Plaintiff would need to lie down and rest on a regular basis and
would frequently experience symptoms severe enough to interfere with her
attention and concentration (Tr. 419). Additionally, he opined that Plaintiff could
occasionally carry up to ten pounds, but could rarely or never carry more than ten
pounds (Tr. 419).
The ALJ found that this opinion, which suggests Plaintiff is basically
confined to a bed, was not supported by the record. For instance, during the time
encompassed by Dr. Davis' opinion, Plaintiff maintained part-time employment as
a housekeeper and store clerk. This fact undermine's Dr. Davis' opinion of
disability. Further, although Dr. Davis found Plaintiffs mental condition
disabling, he did not refer her to a mental health professional. These factors
detract from Dr. Davis' opinion and the ALJ found as much.
The ALJ considered the opinion of another treating physician, Dr. Harry
Lockstadt. In his opinion, he concluded that Plaintiff could sit six hours,
stand/walk two hours, could not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but could
occasionally climb ramps and stairs (Tr. 245). He further opined that Plaintiff
could occasionally push/pull overhead using her arms (Tr. 245). Dr. Lockstadt
opined that Plaintiff could perform both light and sedentary work (Tr. 245). Dr.
Lockstadt also opined that Plaintiff could stand and walk for up to one-third of the
workday and could grasp and manipulate up to two thirds of the workday (Tr.
The ALl clearly found a portion of Dr. Lockstadt's opinion credible. Dr.
Lockstadt's opined that Plaintiff should never climb ladders (Tr. 245); the ALl
agreed with this particular restriction and incorporated it into Plaintiffs RFC (Tr.
17). Dr. Lockstadt limited Plaintiff to only occasional above shoulder work (Tr.
17); the ALl restricted her to no work with the hands overhead (Tr. 17).
However, the ALl did not incorporate all Dr. Lockstadt's opinion into the
RFC. For example, the suggestion that Plaintiff could manipulate and grasp for
two-thirds of the workday (Tr. 245). For example, in October 2008, Dr. Lockstadt
reviewed Plaintiffs systems and described all her systems as "negative" (Tr. 260).
In November 2008, Dr. Lockstadt described Plaintiffs extremities as negative for
cyanosis, clubbing, or edema (Tr. 247). In November 2008, he opined that Plaintiff
could perform regular work with no limitations at that time (Tr. 250). In
November 2009, Dr. Lockstadt opined that Plaintiff could perform regular work
"like she does at her own home" (Tr. 244). Although Plaintiff argues Dr.
Lockstadt's November 2009 opinion does not support the ALl's RFC finding
because Plaintiff could work at her own pace at home, PI. 's Br. at 6, this evidence
supports the ALl's decision not to adopt Dr. Lockstadt's more restrictive March
2009 findings, which he offered only a few months before and after his opinions
that Plaintiff could perform regular work (Tr. 244, 245).
Furthermore, Dr. Lockstadt's treatment notes do not show that Plaintiff
complained of problems with her hands, nor treatment by Dr. Lockstadt of
symptoms related to hand pain (Tr. 244- 67). The record, including Dr.
Lockstadt's previous opinions, supports the ALl's decision to discount the
limitations Dr. Lockstadt found on Plaintiffs ability to grasp and manipulate.
Substantial evidence further supports the ALl's decision not to limit
Plaintiff to walking only one-third of the workday, as Dr. Lockstadt opined (Tr.
245). For example, x-rays from October 2008 showed degenerative disc disease in
Plaintiffs mid and lumbar spine with facet arthritis, but Dr. Lockstadt did not see
indications for immediate surgery (Tr. 260-61). Dr. Lockstadt noted negative
straight leg raising and recommended epidural steroid injections (Tr. 261). Later
when Dr. Lockstadt reviewed a magnetic resonance image (MRI), he concluded
that it showed a "relatively good looking back" and other than some minor
degeneration and a small facet joint effusion, everything else "look[ed] pretty
good." (Tr. 259). Dr. Davis' treatment notes show that Plaintiff participated in a
"walking" program and lost weight (Tr. 372). In November 2009, Plaintiff
reported that Lortab pain medication left her completely asymptomatic and
allowed her to do her work and "bring home a paycheck." (Tr. 255). In August
2010, Dr. Davis found full range of motion in Plaintiffs lumbosacral and thoracic
spine, with some tenderness in the low back (Tr. 369). This evidence supports the
ALl's decision not to adopt Dr. Lockstadt's walking limitations
As for Plaintiffs contention that ALl did not discuss his evaluation of these
opinions, it is without merit. A review of the decision clearly establishes that the
ALl discussed these opinions in detail. Although the ALl did not quantify the
exact weight he assigned the opinions, his decision shows that the ALl discounted
certain opinions and credited others, after considering them opinion in context of
the entire record, as he was entitled to do in assessing RFC. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1513(b), 404.1527, 404.1545, 416.913(b), 416.927, 416.945.
Plaintiffs second claim of error is that the ALl did not properly consider
There is no diagnosis of obesity in the record, nor has any medical source,
treating or otherwise, suggested functional limitation as a result of obesity.
Therefore, the Court finds that the ALl did not err in this regard.
Plaintiff s third claim of error is that the ALl did not properly evaluate
In evaluating a claimant's subjective complaints, the Commissioner
considers objective medical evidence and information from the claimant and
treating or examining physicians, as well as other factors such as evidence of daily
activities, the frequency and intensity of pain, any precipitating and aggravating
factors, medication taken and any resulting side effects, and any other measures
taken to alleviate the claimant's pain. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404. 1529(c)(2), (3),
416.929(c)(2), (3). In addition to the medical evidence as previously discussed,
the ALI also found Plaintiffs work activity after her alleged onset date
undermined her allegations of disabling limitations (Tr. 17). See
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c)(3)(I), 416.929(c)(3)(I). The ALl noted that Plaintiff
worked part-time as a housekeeper and convenience store clerk (Tr. 13, 18,37,40,
203). Furthermore, the record shows that Plaintiff drove and shopped after her
alleged onset date (Tr. Tr. 13, 18,37,40,203). The Sixth Circuit Court of
Appeals has stated that "[a]n ALl may consider household and social activities
engaged in by the claimant in evaluating a claimant's assertions of pain or
ailments." Walters v. Commissioner o/Social Security, 127 F.3d 525, 532 (6th Cir.
1997). The Court finds no error in the ALl's assessment of Plaintiffs credibility.
Finally, Plaintiff claims error with regard to the hypothetical posed by the
ALl to the VE and the answers given thereto. This circuit's long-standing rule is
that the hypothetical question is proper where it accurately describes a claimant's
functional limitations. Varley v. Secretary o/Health and Human Services, 820
F.2d 777,779. (6 th Cir. 1987). This rule is necessarily tempered by the
requirement that the ALl incorporate only those limitations which he or she finds
to be credible. Casey v. Secretary o/Health and Human Services, 987 F.2d 1230,
1235 (6 th Cir. 1993).
In this case, the hypothetical posed accurately portrays the RFC as
formulated based upon the objective medical evidence. The record is devoid of
credible medical evidence suggesting functional limitations beyond those found by
the ALJ. Given the objective medical evidence in the record, the hypothetical
was factually supported by the evidence of record and, thus, the response thereto
constitutes substantial evidence in support of the ALI's decision.
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 22 nd day of February, 2013.
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