Saylor v. SSA
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: It is HEREBY ORDERED that the Plaintiff's 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. Signed by Judge Henry R. Wilhoit, Jr on 03/21/2017.(KJA)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
Civil Action No. 15-162-HRW
JOHNNY SAYLOR, III,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,
ACTING 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 disability insurance benefits. The
Court having reviewed the record in this case and the dispositive motions filed by the parties, and
being othe1wise 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 affirmed.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff filed his current application for disability insurance benefits alleging disability
beginning on due to bulging discs in his back and pain and swelling in his right knee (Tr. 20 I).
This application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Thereafter, upon request by
Plaintiff, an administrative hearing was conducted by Administrative Law Judge Theresa Merrill
(hereinafter "ALJ"), wherein Plaintiff, accompanied by counsel, testified. At the hearing,
William Ellis, a vocational expert (hereinafter "VE"), also testified.
At the hearing, pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.920, the ALJ performed the following fivestep sequential analysis in order to determine whether the Plaintiff was disabled:
Step 1: If the claimant is performing substantial gainful work, he is not disabled.
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.
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 impainnents) meets or medically
equals a listed impairment contained in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4, the
claimant is disabled without further inquity.
Step 4: If the claimant's impairment (or impaitments) 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 perfotming
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
The ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff was 38 years
old at the time of the hearing decision. He completed the 11 •h grade and received his GED. His
past relevant work experience consists of work as a shuttle car operator in a coal mine (Tr. 202).
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 detetmined, at Step 2, that Plaintiff suffers from obesity, lumbar disc
disease and a history of right tibial plateau fracture, which he found to be "severe" within the
meaning of the Regulations.
At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal any
of the listed impairments.
The ALJ further found that Plaintiff could not return to his past relevant work but
determined that he has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567 with the following exceptions:
He cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds and can perfo1m no
more than occasional stooping, kneeling, couching, crawling and
climbing of ramps and stairs. He can occasionally operate foot
controls with his right lower extremity and is able to push/pull
frequently with his hands and feet bilaterally. He can occasionally
reach t the waist and above the head bilaterally and should avoid
unprotected heights, moving machinery and exposure to vibration.
The ALJ finally concluded that these jobs exist in significant numbers in the national and
regional economies, as identified by the VE.
Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not to be disabled at Step 5 of the sequential
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs 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 pmiies have filed Motions for Summmy
Judgment and this matter is ripe for decision.
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 1h Cir. 1984). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence, the reviewing Court must affirm. Kirk v. Secretmy ofHealth and Human
Services, 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6'h 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. Secretaiy ofHealth and Human Services, 862 F.2d 1224, 1228 (6'h Cir. 1988).
Finally, this Comi must defer to the Commissioner's decision "even ifthere 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 (6th
On appeal, Plaintiff first contends that reversal, or, at a minimum, remand is appropriate
because the Appeals Council did not consider records submitted by physical therapist Holly
Johnson. The evidence that Plaintiff referenced is dated July 22, 2014 (Tr. 8-18), and the ALJ's
decision was issued on May 9, 2014 (Tr. 28-41). Thus, contrary to Plaintiffs argument to the
Court, the subject evidence was not only submitted subsequent to the ALJ's decision, but created
after the ALJ rendered her decision. Further, the Appeals Council stated it "considered the
reasons you disagree with the decision" and that "this infotmation does not provide a basis for
changing the Administrative Law Judge's decision." (Tr. 2). The Order of Appeals Council
referenced the physical therapist's July 22, 2014 records, specifically noting that "The
Administrative Law Judge decided your case through May 9, 2014. This new information is
about a later time. Therefore, it does not affect the decision about whether you were disabled
beginning on or before May 9, 2014." (Tr. 2). The Appeals Council denied review and it was not
obligated to atiiculate the basis for its denial of review (Tr. I). Further, the Sixth Circuit "has
repeatedly held that evidence submitted to the Appeals Council after the ALJ' s decision cannot
be considered part of the record for purposes of substantial evidence review." Foster v. Halter,
279 F.3d 348, 357 (6th Cir. 2002). After an Appeals Council denial of review, the ALJ's decision
becomes the final decision of the Commissioner that is subject to judicial review. 20 C.F.R. §
Significantly, the physical therapist's records do not indicate that her opinions are
relevant to any time prior to July 22, 2014 (Tr. 8-17). Indeed, the physical therapist completed a
form identified as "CLIENT'S CURRENT PHYSICAL DEMAND LEVEL CAPABILITIES"
contemporaneous with her July 22, 2014 physical examination ofPlaintiff(Tr. 18)(emphasis
added). As such, the relevance of the records is questionable, at best as it pertains to Plaintiffs
condition after the period of adjudication.
Plaintiff next argues that the ALI' s decision is flawed because she dis not consider
Plaintiffs obesity in formulating the RFC. This argument is utterly without merit. The ALJ's
decision is replete with references to obesity, both in the medical evidence and in the ALJ's own
assessment. For example, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impainnents of obesity, lumbar
disc disease and a histmy of right tibial plateau fracture (Tr. 30; Finding No. 3). Clearly contra1y
to Plaintiffs argument to the Court, in her reasonable RFC finding, the ALJ incorporated the
postural and environmental limitations assessed by treating physician, Robert C. Hoskins, M.D.,
as "they accommodate the exacerbating effects of the claimant's obesity upon his other
impairments, as is required pursuant to Social Security Ruling 02-lp." (Tr. 35; Tr. 507-509, 510512). Further, the ALJ reasonably declined to adopt the determination of state agency medical
consultant, Allen Dawson, M.D., that Plaintiff retained the capacity to perfotm medium exertion
work, by specifically noting that Dr. Dawson's assessment did not "address the exacerbating
effects of the claimant's obesity upon his other impairments and therefore does not conform to
the directive of Social Security Ruling 02-1 p." However, the ALJ did incorporate specific
postural and environmental limits as opined by Dr. Dawson (Tr. 35; Tr. 104-106). 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(e)(2)(1) (state agency medical and psychological consultants ... are highly qualified
physicians and psychologists who are also experts in Social Security disability evaluation.)
abundantly clear the ALJ throughly considered all Plaintiffs impairments, including obesity, in
formulating the RFC.
To the extent that Plaintiff suggests that this evidence is open to another interpretation
that favors her claim, the Court declines to reweigh the evidence in this fashion. If the
Commissioner's decision denying benefits is supported by substantial evidence, as it is here, the
Court must affirm that decision. Longworth v. Commissioner ofSocial Security, 402 F.3d 591,
595 (6 1h Cir. 2005). Even if substantial evidence exists to support Plaintiff's claim, the Court
should still affilm the Commissioner's decision because it is supported by substantial evidence.
Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001); see also Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 780, 782
(6th Cir. 1996) (even if the Court would have decided the matter differently than the ALJ, if
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, it must be affirmed.)
The Court finds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the
record. Accordingly, it is HEREBY ORDERED that the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment be OVERRULED and the Defendant's Motion for Summaiy Judgment be
SUSTAINED. A judgment in favor of the Defendant will be entered contemporaneously
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