Luster v. SSA
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: (1) DENYING pla's 16 MOTION for Summary Judgment; (2) GRANTING Commissioner's 15 MOTION for Summary Judgment; (3) the Commissioner's decision in this matter is AFFIRMED. Signed by Judge Joseph M. Hood on 6/24/15.(KJR)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CENTRAL DIVISION at LEXINGTON
TRACY RANEE LUSTER,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
Civil Action No.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
denial of her application for disability income benefits (DIB)
reviewed the record and considered the parties’ arguments, finds
that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge is supported
Defendant’s motion and deny Plaintiff’s motion.
I. Overview of the Process and the Instant Matter
disability, must conduct a five-step analysis:
An individual who is working and engaging in
regardless of the claimant's medical condition.
These are not traditional Rule 56 motions for summary judgment. Rather, it
is a procedural device by which the parties bring the administrative record
before the Court.
An individual who is working but does not have a
"severe" impairment which significantly limits his
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities
is not disabled.
If an individual is not working and has a severe
impairment which "meets the duration requirement and
is listed in appendix 1 or is equal to a listed
impairment(s)", then he is disabled regardless of
If a decision cannot be reached based on current
work activity and medical facts alone, and the
claimant has a severe impairment, then the Secretary
reviews the claimant's residual functional capacity
and the physical and mental demands of the claimant's
previous work. If the claimant is able to continue to
do this previous work, then he is not disabled.
If the claimant cannot do any work he did in the
past because of a severe impairment, then the
Secretary considers his residual functional capacity,
age, education, and past work experience to see if he
can do other work.
If he cannot, the claimant is
Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110
(6th Cir. 1994) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (1982)).
burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four
steps of this process to prove that he is disabled.”
the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that the
determined that she had severe impairments including: chronic
neck pain following cervical vertebra fractures; degenerative
disorder; and marijuana abuse, which was allegedly in remission.
The ALJ determined, however, that none of the impairments met or
After considering the medical evidence, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant
work, but retains the residual functional capacity to perform
The ALJ added, however, that Plaintiff could do no
stairs or ramps, pushing, pulling, or overhead work with the
upper extremities; no more than frequent turning of the head
from side to side; and no exposure to concentrated vibration or
procedures; no frequent changes in work routines; no requirement
for detailed or complex problem solving, independent planning or
setting of goals; and no fast-paced assembly lines or rigid
Finally, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
occasional and casual contact with coworkers, supervisors, or
the general public.
Based on the testimony of a vocational
expert (VE), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of
making a successful transition to other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy and, therefore, was
II. Standard of Review
benefits, the Court may “not try the case de novo, nor resolve
conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.”
Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th
Cir. 1994) (citations omitted).
Instead, judicial review of the
ALJ's decision is limited to an inquiry into whether the ALJ's
findings were supported by substantial evidence, 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2001)
(citations omitted), and whether the ALJ employed the proper
legal standards in reaching his conclusion.
See Landsaw v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 803 F.2d 211, 213 (6th Cir.
evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant
At the time of the ALJ’s decision, Plaintiff was forty-twoyears old and had completed two years of technical college.
previous work experience includes employment as a sales clerk, a
nursing assistant, and as an assistant manager at McDonald’s.
Plaintiff claims that she became unable to work in April 2007
because of a “mental breakdown.”
Although the precise trigger
psychological symptoms began around that time.
She does not
claim to have had any disabling physical conditions until May 8,
2009, when her trailer home was overturned during a tornado.
From that time on, Plaintiff claims, she has suffered neck and
arm pain and paresthesia, as well as low back and hip pain.
fractures at the C6 level at the time of the tornado.
claims that her depression and anxiety worsened significantly
longstanding marijuana use up until May 2009.
Plaintiff’s primary care provider is Jessica Pennington,
The record indicates that Plaintiff saw Dr. Pennington on
a regular basis beginning in December 2006.
During that time,
Dr. Pennington treated Plaintiff for anxiety, depression, back
Notably, one of the goals that Miller
set for Plaintiff was to “continue looking for a job and doing
what it takes to interview and submit applications.”
At Dr. Pennington’s order, Plaintiff underwent an MRI of
the lumbar spine in April 2010, which revealed mild spondylosis
and disc bulging without any evidence of disc herniation or
Plaintiff underwent an MRI of the cervical spine in
That study revealed disc bulging at C6-7, with
no evidence of disc herniation or stenosis.
Plaintiff’s disability claim in January 2010.
She opined that Plaintiff could lift only five pounds and that
she could stand or walk only two hours out of an eight-hour
She opined that Plaintiff could sit only four hours
out of an eight-hour workday.
Additionally, she stated that
Plaintiff’s ability to focus on tasks and to concentrate was
Plaintiff’s ability to deal with stresses at work was poor.
Geraldo Lima, PhD performed a psychological examination of
Plaintiff for the state.
Lima found that Plaintiff was able to
understand simple instructions and had no difficulty recalling
He found that she was able to concentrate well
and would likely be able to complete tasks in a normal amount of
He determined, however, that she was socially withdrawn
and unlikely to do well in social contexts and that her ability
to cope with work stress was reduced.
Christi Bruening, PhD
determined that Plaintiff could understand, remember, and carry
out instructions; that she could concentrate for two hours at a
time; that she could tolerate occasional contact with co-workers
and supervisors in a non-public setting; and that she could
adapt as needed in work settings involving routine adjustments.
evaluation for the state.
Dr. Saranga determined that Plaintiff
could occasionally lift fifty pounds and frequently lift twentyfive pounds.
He found that she could stand, walk, or sit about
six hours in an eight-hour workday.
Finally, he found that
Plaintiff’s ability to push and pull was unlimited.
Harwell Smith, PhD performed a psychological examination
at the request of the state agency in January 2011.
concluded that Plaintiff’s ability to perform daily activities
He determined that her concentration is fair, and that
her ability to interact socially with people at work and to
behalf of the state in July 2011.
Dr. Hundley determined that
instructions is fair to good and that her ability to maintain
attention is fair to guarded.
Hundley found that Plaintiff’s
ability to interact appropriately in a work setting is guarded
to poor “given her description.”
The ALJ did not err by failing to give sufficient
reasons for rejecting Dr. Pennington’s opinion
regarding Plaintiff’s physical limitations.
An ALJ must give the opinion of a treating source
techniques” and is “not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence” in the record.
Wilson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 378
assigned to a treating source opinion, an ALJ is required to
In giving little weight to Dr. Pennington’s
Dr. Pennington’s treatment notes were not consistent
with the severity of the impairments given in the disability
The ALJ noted that, despite Dr. Pennington’s long
“lumbago” in March 2012.
The ALJ went on to point out that
Plaintiff’s nondisplaced cervical fractures had healed within a
few months of the 2009 tornado.
Further, the MRI studies of
Plaintiff’s neck and low back revealed only mild degenerative
changes of the spine.
To be sure, the ALJ could have provided a more thorough
analysis using all the factors listed in the Social Security
Regulations, see Wilson, 378 F.3d 541 at 544 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(d)(2)). The Court is satisfied, however, that the ALJ
The hypothetical presented to the VE was consistent
with Dr. Pennington’s opinion of Plaintiff’s
psychological impairments and was supported by
With respect to Plaintiff’s psychological impairments,
Dr. Pennington opined that, due to Plaintiff’s depression and
anxiety, her ability to deal with work stress was poor.
considered Dr. Pennington’s opinion, along with those of the
state examining and consulting sources, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff could perform entry-level work with simple, repetitive
procedures, with no frequent changes in work routines and no
requirement for detailed or complex problem solving, independent
planning or setting of goals, and no fast-paced assembly lines
or rigid production quotas.
Additionally, the ALJ determined
that the Plaintiff could work in an object-oriented environment
supervisors, or the general public.
Like Dr. Pennington, the state’s examining and consulting
physicians determined that Plaintiff had a reduced ability to
cope with work-related stress.
The ALJ determined, however,
that Plaintiff’s claim of a complete inability to deal with
“holiday road trips.”
Further, he noted, Plaintiff’s anger10
management issues appeared to be related to her relationship
being socially withdrawn, she reported having numerous friends
with whom she talked and visited.
The ALJ stated that the
“opinions and treating and examining sources as to ‘poor ability
to deal with work stresses’ ha[ve] been considered and [are]
reflected in the limitation to entry level work with infrequent
While Plaintiff requested a hypothetical defining
“poor” as “unacceptable” and “work stresses” as stress at even
simple jobs, the ALJ declined, finding that these definitions
were “extreme” and “not in accordance with the evidence.”
stress is undoubtedly compromised, the ALJ’s conclusion that she
can tolerate some stress is supported by substantial evidence.
The record supports that the hypothetical presented to the VE
sufficiently captured Plaintiff’s reduced ability to deal with
stress and is, therefore, is not grounds for remand.
stipulating that available jobs involve only simple tasks that
are not fast-paced and do not require public contact or high
levels of interaction with others.).
Based on the foregoing, IT IS ORDERED:
that the Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment, [DE
15], is DENIED;
that the Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Judgment,
[DE 16], is GRANTED;
This the 24th day of June, 2015.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?