Stamper v. SSA
OPINION & ORDER: 1) 10 MOTION for Summary Judgment is DENIED. 2) 11 MOTION for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. 3) Decision of SSA is AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence four of 42 USC 405 (g). 4) Judgment will be entered w this order. Signed by Judge Karen K. Caldwell on 9/27/2017.(SCD)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CIVIL ACTION NO. 5:16-131- KKC
OPINION AND ORDER
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SSA,
*** *** ***
The plaintiff Debbie Stamper brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
obtain judicial review of an administrative decision denying her claim for disability insurance
benefits. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner’s decision.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
This Court’s review of the decision by the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) is limited
to determining whether it “is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper
legal standards.” Rabbers v. Comm'r Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir.2009).
In denying Stamper’s claim, the ALJ engaged in the five-step sequential process set forth
in the regulations under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(e). See,
e.g., Walters v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997).
At step one, the ALJ determined that Stamper has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since January 2, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Administrative Record (“AR”) at 12.)
At step two, the ALJ determined that Stamper suffers from the following severe
impairments: coronary artery disease with status post double coronary artery bypass grafting;
fibromyalgia; back and shoulder pain; and Sjögren’s syndrome, which is an autoimmune disease
that causes dryness of the eyes and mouth. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseasesconditions/sjogrens-syndrome/home/ovc-20345863. (AR at 12.)
At step three, the ALJ found that Stamper did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (AR at
Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Stamper had the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform a reduced range of “light” work as defined by 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(b) with the following limitations:
She is unable to climb ropes, ladders and scaffolds. She is limited
to no more than frequent climbing ramps/stairs, balancing,
stooping and kneeling. She is restricted to tasks with limited
exposure to temper extremes, full body vibration, concentrated
wetness, hazardous machinery and dangerous lights.
(AR at 16.)
At step four, the ALJ determined that, given the RFC described above, Stamper can still
perform her past relevant work as a real estate salesperson and officer manager and, thus, she is
not disabled. (AR at 17.) Accordingly, the ALJ did not proceed to step five – determining
whether there are jobs the claimant could perform other than past relevant work.
Stamper raises two objections to the ALJ’s decision. First, she argues that the ALJ erred in
finding that Stamper’s impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or medically
equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. This is significant because, if a claimant’s
impairment meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments at 20 C.F.R. § 440, Subpart
P, Appendix 1, then the ALJ must find the claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
Stamper argues that she meets or equals the qualifications for impairment listing 14.10 for
Sjögren’s Syndrome. That listing requires a diagnosis and, in relevant part:
A. Involvement of two or more organs/body systems, with:
1. One of the organs/body systems involved to at least a moderate level of
2. At least two of the constitutional symptoms or signs (severe fatigue,
fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss)
20 C.F.R. § Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.
There is no dispute that Stamper has been diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome. The ALJ
recognized the diagnosis and found that Sjögren’s syndrome constituted a severe impairment.
Stamper argues that she has presented sufficient evidence that the syndrome involves multiple
body systems to at least a moderate level of severity, satisfying the requirement in 14.10(A)(1).
She argues that she also satisfies the second requirement of that provision because the evidence
shows she has repeatedly sought treatment for severe fatigue and malaise.
The Commissioner disputes only whether Stamper has presented sufficient evidence to meet
the second requirement. In his decision, the ALJ does not mention listing 14.10. The Court
agrees with the Commission that the ALJ should have specifically discussed listing 14.10.
Nevertheless, the fact that he did not does not require a remand if the ALJ “made sufficient
factual findings elsewhere in his decision to support his conclusion at step three.” Forrest v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 591 F. App'x 359, 366 (6th Cir. 2014).
With regard to evidence that Stamper has experienced severe fatigue or malaise necessary to
meet the second requirement of the listing, the ALJ noted that Stamper was seeing Dr. Shahzad
Mohammad for fatigue and depression. The ALJ also noted that Stamper had been treated for
depression for 25 years and that she underwent a consultative psychological evaluation and was
diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Nevertheless, the ALJ determined that Stamper’s
mental impairments “do not cause more than minimal limitation in the claimant’s ability to
perform basic mental work activities and is therefore nonsevere.”
The ALJ noted the various activities of daily living that Stamper was able to perform
including providing for her own personal care, preparing meals daily, cleaning, laundry, driving,
shopping, paying some bills, watching television, reading the newspaper, and interacting with
others through Facebook, and email. The ALJ noted evidence in the record that Stamper has no
problem getting along with family, friends, and neighbors and that she can follow written and
spoken instructions. The ALJ further noted that, while Dr. Shahzad reported that Stamper has
depression and anxiety, Dr. Shahzad had not found the condition severe enough to refer her for
psychiatric treatment or hospitalization. The ALJ also cited a report by consultative psychologist
Jennifer Sutherland who diagnosed Stamper with major depressive disorder but also found
Stamper had a good ability to tolerate the stress and pressures associated with typical day-to-day
work activities. (AR at 606.)
Accordingly, the ALJ’s determination that Stamper does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any Listing, including Listing 14.10,
is supported by substantial evidence.
Stamper also argues that the ALJ failed to give good reasons for rejecting the opinion of Dr.
Shahzad, her treating physician. ALJs must “evaluate every medical opinion [they] receive”
about a claimant and give “controlling weight” to opinions from treating sources “[i]f [they] find
that a treating source's opinion . . . is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in
[the claimant's] case record.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c), (c)(2). An ALJ must provide “good
reasons” for not giving a treating physician's opinion controlling weight. Id.
Dr. Shahzad opined that Stamper has Sjögren’s syndrome, chronic back and joint pain,
depression, and anxiety. He opined that Stamper has “marked limitation” in her ability “to deal
with normal stresses of competitive employment such as working at a constant pace, working
appropriately with co-workers and supervisors, not taking an excessive number of breaks, etc.”
(AR at 684.) He further opined that Stamper could sit for only 10 minutes and stand and walk for
only five minutes without changing positions and that she could sit, stand, and walk for less than
two hours in an eight-hour workday. (AR at 685.) He further opined that she would need to
include frequent periods of walking and would have to “lie down at will” during an eight-hour
workday. Dr. Shahzad opined that Stamper could lift less than 10 pounds only infrequently and
that should could never left more than 10 pounds. (AR at 686.)
In developing Stamper’s RFC, the ALJ gave Dr. Shahzad’s opinion “little weight.”
Nevertheless, he gave good reasons for doing so. As discussed, with regard to Stamper’s anxiety
and depression, the ALJ noted the activities of daily living that Stamper is able to perform
successfully, the fact that Dr. Shahzad had never referred Stamper for psychiatric treatment or
hospitalization, and psychologist Sutherland’s opinion that Stamper has a good ability to tolerate
the stress and pressures associated with typical day-to-day work activities
As to the physical limitations contained in Dr. Shahzad’s opinion, it was dated August 13,
2013 and was partly based on his assertion that Stamper had “Positive Straight Leg Raising,”
“muscle weakness,” and “abnormal gait.” The ALJ noted, however, that Dr. Shahzad’s
treatment notes dated May 8, 2014 showed that Stamper’s gate was normal, her straight leg
raising was negative bilaterally, and that Stamper had 5/5 muscle strength. (AR at 871). The
ALJ further noted records from Stamper’s treating orthopedist and pain management specialists
indicating that Stamper’s hips were “structurally sound,” that she had a normal MRI in
December 2013, and that she had mild degenerative disc disease with no significant change from
prior imaging done in 2008, when Stamper was working successfully. The ALJ also noted that
consultative examiner Dr. Jules Barefoot reported that Stamper’s gait was normal and that she
had full mobility in her lumbar and cervical spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and
ankles. The ALJ noted that Dr. Barefoot concluded that Stamper would have difficulty with only
“strenuous” work activity. These are good reasons for discounting Dr. Shahzad’s opinion.
For all these reasons, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:
1. The plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment (DE 10) is DENIED;
2. The defendant’s motion for summary judgment (DE 11) is GRANTED;
3. The decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) as it was supported by substantial evidence and was decided by proper legal
4. A judgment will be entered contemporaneously with this order.
Dated September 27, 2017.
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