Williams v. SSA
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: 1) The Commissioner's Motion for summary Judgment [Record No. 15] is GRANTED; 2) The Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Record No. 12] is DENIED. Signed by Judge Danny C. Reeves on 4/10/2017.(RC)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
MARVIN G. WILLIAMS,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security1,
Civil Action No. 6: 16-194-DCR
This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed
by Plaintiff Marvin G. Williams [Record No. 12] and Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) [Record No. 15]. The Commissioner’s
motion will be granted and the relief that Williams seeks will be denied for the reasons that
Williams filed applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental
security income (“SSI”) in June 2013, alleged a disability onset date of February 6, 2013. [Tr.
242] The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. [Tr. 172, 179] Williams
requested an administrative hearing, which was held on January 29, 2015, before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Roger Lott. [Tr. 70-118, 194] ALJ Lott determined that
Nancy A. Berryhill is now the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, and is
substituted as the defendant in this action pursuant to Rule 25(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Williams had not been disabled from the alleged onset date through the date of his decision,
May 15, 2015. [Tr. 65] The Appeals Council denied review. [Tr. 1] Williams has exhausted
his administrative remedies and this case is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and
Williams was 47 years old on the alleged onset date of disability. [Tr. 242] He has a
tenth-grade education a prior work experience as a water treatment worker, sewage disposal
worker, maintenance worker, milling machine operator, janitor, supervisor, forklift operator,
and lumber handler. [Tr. 307, 113] Williams alleged that he became disabled due to
hypertension, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), and heart
failure. [Tr. 306]
Dr. Georges Damaa began treating Williams for complaints of chest and right arm pain
in August 2012. [Tr. 356-371] Dr. Damaa diagnosed Williams during the August visit with
ischemia. [Tr. 358] He again saw Williams in September 2012. Following a stress test, Dr
Damma reported that Williams had nonobstructive coronary artery disease.
Additionally, an x-ray showed no active cardiopulmonary process with signs of chronic
bronchitis. [Tr. 519] Dr. Damaa reported that Williams’s lungs were clear. [Tr. 363] In
October 2012, Dr. Damaa advised Williams, a daily cigarette smoker, that he should refrain
from smoking. [Tr. 365] Dr. Damaa also advised Williams that he was cleared to return to
normal activity. [Id.]
A pulmonary function study from January 2013 showed minimal obstructive lung
defect and that Williams’s lung volume was within the normal limits. [Tr. 420] Treatment
notes from the Clover Fork Clinic in January and February 2013 indicate that Williams’s lungs
were clear without wheezes, rales, or rhonchi and that his breathing was not labored. [Tr. 450]
He was assessed with bronchitis and benign hypertension. [Tr. 451, 456] The Clinic’s
physicians saw Williams in July and August 2013 and reported that Williams continued to
smoke, that his COPD was stable, and that his lungs remained clear without wheezes, rales,
rhonchi. [Tr. 458-65] Williams denied any side effects from his medication during this period.
Later reports indicate that Williams’s COPD and hypertension were controlled. [Tr.
Dr. Nagabhushanam Bollavaram treated Williams for shortness of breath associated
with cough and wheezing in February 2014. [Tr. 514] Dr. Bollavaram noted good bilateral
air entry with expiratory wheezing in all lung zones. [Tr. 516] Dr. Bollavaram advised
Williams that his problems would worsen if he continued to smoke. [Tr. 518] Williams saw
Dr. Bollavaram again in March and reported that his breathing symptoms had worsened. [Tr.
509] Dr. Bollavaram noted a pulmonary function study that showed moderate COPD and no
hyperinflation, no restrictions, and normal diffusion. [Tr. 509-12] Dr. Bollavaram concluded
that Williams did not qualify for home oxygen therapy. [Id.]
Williams continued to obtain treatment from the Clover Fork Clinic from September
2014 through December 2014. [Tr. 555] Williams stated during his December 2014 visit that
he was satisfied with his current treatment. [Id.] His BMI at this time was 38.69 kg/m2. [Id.]
Treatment notes show mild expiratory wheezes throughout the lung fields, but the claimant
had normal oxygen saturation. [Id.] Williams denied any side effects from his medication but
continued to smoke daily. [Tr. 555, 556] Treatment notes indicated that Williams’s lungs
were clear. [Tr. 556] Williams was prescribed an albuterol inhaler, Imdur, Neurontin, aspirin,
Cozaar, Paxil, simvastatin, Daliresp, Spiriva, Symbicort, hydroxyzine, and prednisone at this
State agency physician Dr. Delsadie Callins concluded that Williams had the Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work in July 2013. [Tr. 127] Dr. Callins
noted his heart disease, COPD, obesity, and degenerative disc disease, and applied various
exertional limitations to reflect these conditions, such as limiting the amount of time that
Williams could sit and stand or walk in an 8-hour work day, the weight that he could lift, and
his ability to climb. [Tr. 124-25] However, Dr. Callins ultimately determined that Williams
was not disabled. [Tr. 127]
State agency physician Dr. Donna Sadler also concluded that Williams was not disabled
in October 2013. [Tr. 149] She concluded that Williams’s statements regarding the severity
of his symptoms were only partially credible because they were not consistent with the
objective evidence. [Id.] For example, Williams complained of worsening breathing problems
but medical records showed that his lungs were clear and his breathing was not labored. [Id.]
She affirmed Dr. Callins’s RFC finding. [Tr. 153]
Williams testified during the administrative hearing before the ALJ that he had chest
pain approximately two or three times a week and that the chest pain was generally associated
with exertion. [Tr. 89] He further stated that he has had increasing problems breathing that
result in him “[g]etting out of breath and getting exhausted.” [Tr. 90] Williams testified that
he is able to drive, takes care of his own personal needs, makes some of his own meals,
performs some household chores, goes grocery shopping, and socializes with a friend
occasionally. [Tr. 97-103]
The vocational expert concluded that a hypothetical person of Williams’s age and
education level as described by the ALJ with various limitations on the ability to lift, move,
and breathe in certain environments, could not perform any of Williams’s past jobs. [Tr. 114]
However, that there were jobs in the national economy that Williams could perform. [Id.]
The ALJ found severe impairments of COPD, obesity, ischemic heart disease, and
However, Williams did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment.
[Tr. 58] The ALJ concluded that Williams had the RFC to perform light work with limitations
associated with lifting, general movement, and exposure to respiratory irritants and hazards
such as heights and machinery. [Tr. 58]
The ALJ next determined that Williams’s statements regarding the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were not entirely credible. [Tr. 59] He noted
the diagnoses of COPD, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, and obesity, and concluded that
these conditions were consistent with the RFC to perform light work, but they did not justify
a finding of disabling pain. [Tr. 60] The ALJ went on to discuss the medical records pertaining
to each of the stated conditions, Williams’s statements regarding his daily activities, and the
state agency physicians’ conclusion.
The ALJ further identified various
inconsistencies between Williams’s assertions of disabling pain and the evidence in the record.
[Tr. 62] Although Williams was not able to perform his past work, the ALJ found that there
were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform based
on the VE’s testimony. [Tr. 63-65] As a result, the ALJ determined that Williams was not
disabled from the alleged onset date through the date of the decision. [Tr. 65]
Under the Social Security Act, a “disability” is defined as “the inability to engage in
‘substantial gainful activity’ because of a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment of at least one year’s expected duration.” Cruse v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d
532, 539 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). A claimant’s Social Security
disability determination is made by an ALJ in accordance with “a five-step ‘sequential
evaluation process.’” Combs v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 642 (6th Cir. 2006) (en
banc) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)). If the claimant satisfies the requirements of the
first four steps of the process, the burden shifts to the Commissioner with respect to the fifth
step. See Jones v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003).
A claimant must first demonstrate that he is not engaged in substantial gainful
employment at the time of the disability application. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b).
Second, the claimant must show that he suffers from a severe impairment or a combination of
impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). Third, if the claimant is not engaged in
substantial gainful employment and has a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least
twelve months and that meets or equals a listed impairment, he will be considered disabled
without regard to age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
Fourth, if the claimant has a severe impairment but the Commissioner cannot make a
determination of the disability based on medical evaluations and current work activity, the
Commissioner will review the claimant’s RFC and relevant past work to determine whether
he can perform his past work. If he can, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f),
Under the fifth step of the analysis, if the claimant’s impairments prevent him from
doing past work, the Commissioner will consider his RFC, age, education, and past work
experience to determine whether he can perform other work. If he cannot perform other work,
the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g).
“The Commissioner has the burden of proof only on ‘the fifth step, proving that there is work
available in the economy that the claimant can perform.’” White v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 312
F. App’x 779, 785 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Her v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391 (6th
This Court’s review is limited to determining whether the ALJ’s findings are supported
by substantial evidence and whether the ALJ employed the proper legal standards in reaching
his decision. Rogers v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). Substantial
evidence is such relevant evidence as reasonable minds might accept as sufficient to support
the conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d
506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007). The Commissioner’s findings are conclusive if they are supported
by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Williams argues that the ALJ’s credibility determination is not supported by substantial
evidence. Specifically, he asserts that the ALJ failed to properly assess his alleged breathing
problems and that, as a result, the ALJ improperly concluded that Williams was not disabled.
An ALJ may consider the credibility of the claimant when evaluating the claimant’s subjective
complaints. Cruse v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 542 (6th Cir. 2007) (“[a]n ALJ is
not required to accept a claimant’s subjective complaints and may . . . consider the credibility
of a claimant when making a determination of disability.”). The ALJ’s determinations
regarding a claimant’s credibility are accorded significant deference “since the ALJ is charged
with observing the claimant’s demeanor and credibility.” Id. (citation omitted). These
findings will be upheld if they are supported by substantial evidence. Ulman v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 714 (6th Cir. 2012).
The ALJ determined that Williams’s assertions regarding the severity of his symptoms
and limitations were not credible. This determination is supported by substantial evidence.
The medical records regularly showed that Williams’s COPD was stable. [See, e.g., Tr. 48565] Likewise, his physicians consistently noted that his lungs were clear and that he did not
have wheezes, rales, rhonchi, or labored breathing. [See, e.g., Tr. 450] Dr. Bollavaram
concluded that Williams’s condition was not so severe as to necessitate home oxygen therapy.
Williams’s daily activities also support the ALJ’s conclusion that Williams was capable
of performing light work, and undermine his assertions that he is disabled. Williams testified
that he is able to drive, takes care of his own person needs, prepares meals, performs some
household chores, goes grocery shopping, and socializes with a friend occasionally. [Tr. 97103] Additionally, physicians repeatedly reported that Williams was smoking a substantial
number of cigarettes daily, and that they had advised him to refrain from doing so. [See, e.g.,
Finally, the state agency physicians determined that Williams is capable of
performing medium exertion work, despite his conditions, because his subjective complaints
regarding his ability to breathe were not supported by the objective medical evidence. [Tr.
Williams also makes the conclusory assertion that the ALJ’s determination is not
supported by substantial evidence. However, he does not expand on this argument, other than
to recite the standard of review and to reiterate that he suffers from COPD, obesity, ischemic
Williams in incorrect in his assertion that the ALJ failed to appropriately consider all
relevant evidence. The ALJ discusses the medical record at length, and specifically addressed
each of the conditions that Williams claimed renders him disabled.
heart disease, and hypertension. Accordingly, this issue is waived. See McPherson v. Kelsey,
125 F.3d 989, 995-96 (6th Cir. 1997) (“[I]ssues adverted to in a perfunctory manner,
unaccompanied by some effort at developed argumentation, are deemed waived. It is not
sufficient for a party to mention a possible argument in the most skeletal way, leaving the court
to . . . put flesh on its bones.”).
But even if the substantial evidence argument had been properly raised, it would be
rejected as being without meritless. For the reasons previously discussed, substantial evidence
supports the ALJ’s determination.
The ALJ thoroughly considered each of Williams’s
conditions, and reasoned that they did not prevent him from being able to perform light work.
This conclusion is supported by the previously-discussed medical record and Williams’s own
reports of his daily activities. Williams fails to identify any portion of the record that would
establish that he is unable to perform light work.
The ALJ’s credibility determination is supported by substantial evidence. Likewise,
the ALJ’s determination that Williams is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence.
Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED as follows:
The Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Record No. 15] is
The Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Record No. 12] is DENIED.
This 10th day of April, 2017.
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