Shane v. SSA
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: 1. Magistrate's Report and Recommendation (R. 16 ) is ADOPTED as and for the Opinion of the Court; 2. Plas Motion for Summary Judgment (R. 13 ) is DENIED, and her objections (R. 17 ) are OVERRULED; 3. Dfts Motion for Summary Judgment (R. 14 ) is GRANTED; and 4. Judgment shall be entered contemporaneously herewith. Signed by Judge Gregory F. VanTatenhove on 1/9/17. (TDA) cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner
of Social Security,
Case No. 7:15-cv-00115-GFVT
*** *** *** ***
Plaintiff Karen Shane brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to challenge a
final decision of the Social Security Administration which denied her applications for Title II
disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental security income. Consistent with the
Court’s practice and pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), this matter was referred to United
States Magistrate Judge Edward B. Atkins for the issuance of a Report and Recommendation
containing proposed findings and recommendations. After careful review, Judge Atkins
recommended denying Ms. Shane’s motion for summary judgment and granting the
Commissioner’s. In light of Ms. Shane’s objections, the Court has reviewed the matter de novo.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court ADOPTS Judge Atkins’s Report and Recommendation,
DENIES Shane’s motion for summary judgment, and FINDS in favor of the Commissioner.
The factual background and procedural history relevant to Ms. Shane’s social security
appeal are set forth in detail in Judge Atkins’s Report and Recommendation. [See R. 16 at 1-4.]
The Court incorporates by reference that thorough explanation herein. After Judge Atkins
explained the factual and procedural history of the case, Judge Atkins determined that (1) the
Administrative Law Judge’s decision in Ms. Shane’s case was supported by substantial evidence,
and (2) Sentence Six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) did not require Ms. Shane’s case be remanded
because of “new and material evidence.” [Id. at 5-14.] Subsequently, Ms. Shane filed timely
objections to the Report and Recommendation. [R. 17.]
The Court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the Report and
Recommendation to which objections are made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c). Ms. Shane’s
objections, which contest both of Judge Atkins’s findings, trigger de novo review, and the Court
has satisfied that requirement by considering anew the parties’ arguments, the ALJ’s decision,
the evidence in the record, and applicable case law and procedural rules.
Ms. Shane contends the ALJ erred in finding Shane’s testimony lacked credibility.
Regarding that testimony, the ALJ noted the following:
The claimant testified at the oral hearing about her past relevant work and her
impairments. She had numerous complaints and gave inconsistent testimony
which was exaggerated and lacking credibility. She didn’t go back to Comp Care
because the therapist wanted to lock her up for three days (but see Exhibit 2F, pg.
3). She has a driver’s license but denies driving for two years or since 2013 (but
drove a cab in November 2013) and so on.
On review of the file, including Ms. Shane’s testimony, the Administrative Law
Judge does not find the claimant entirely credible for the reasons explained in this
decision. She did not appear in any outward distress and responded appropriately
to questions without any indication of distraction due to any cause. The level of
treatment is incongruent with the alleged severity of her complaints while
objective clinical and other examination findings do not suggest an individual
who is incapable of all work activity. Ms. Shane has made inconsistent
statements and asserts she can no longer drive, but her last job was for a taxi
company. She complained about urinary frequency, but denied any treatment
from June 2014 until the May 2015 hearing. She testified she could only walk
three or four minutes at a time and so on, her complaints so extreme as to appear
She appears to have altered her information depending upon her audience and has
contradicted herself as she has progressed through the disability process, all of
which impacts her credibility. Weighing all relevant factors, the Administrative
Law Judge concludes the claimant’s subjective report of her symptoms does not
warrant any additional limitations beyond those established in the residual
functional capacity outlined in this decision.
[Transcript (hereinafter “Tr.”) 21-22.]
Ms. Shane takes issue with the ALJ’s decision to afford her testimony little weight for a
variety of reasons. First, Shane argues the ALJ overstated the importance of the discrepancy in
Shane’s testimony about her ability to drive. Shane testified she had not driven a car in “about
two years,” [see Tr. 54-55], when in reality, Shane had driven a taxi about a year and a half
before the hearing—one year and seven months prior to the hearing, to be exact. [See Tr. 348.]
Next, Shane seeks to offer an explanation for why she might have testified that her therapist
“wanted to lock her up for three days,” [see Tr. 21], as the record reflects that the therapist did
indeed discuss the possibility of admitting Shane to a crisis stabilization inpatient unit. [See Tr.
343.] Finally, Shane maintains the amount of treatment she actually receives is not inconsistent
with her testimony about her pain, as physical examinations do demonstrate she suffers from a
limited range of motion and considerable tenderness in her back and knees. [Tr. 392, 429, 45152.]
Ms. Shane’s arguments are well-taken, but they will not suffice to overturn the Social
Security Administration’s decision. While an ALJ’s determination must always be supported by
substantial evidence, “an ALJ’s credibility determinations about the claimant are to be given
great weight, particularly since the ALJ is charged with observing the claimant’s demeanor and
credibility.” Cruse v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 542 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation
marks and citations omitted). Moreover, the substantial evidence standard of review is
deferential as it “presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which decision makers can go
either way, without interference from the court.” Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir.
1986). If the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed even if the
Court would decide the matter differently or even if substantial evidence also supports the
opposite conclusion. Her v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).
Here, there may well be reasonable explanations for one or a number of the discrepancies
in Ms. Shane’s testimony. However, the ALJ was still well within her right to find that those
discrepancies negatively impacted Ms. Shane’s credibility. “Discounting credibility to a certain
degree is appropriate where an ALJ finds contradictions among medical reports, claimant’s
testimony, and other evidence.” Walters v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 531 (6th Cir.
1997). Judge Atkins set forth in significant detail the contradictions between Shane’s testimony
and the evidence in the record. [See R. 16 at 8-10.] These numerous contradictions surely
amount to substantial evidence supporting the ALJ’s credibility conclusion, even if substantial
evidence would also support the finding Shane now seeks. Thus, the Court overrules Shane’s
objections and adopts the Magistrate’s recommendation regarding the ALJ’s credibility
Ms. Shane also seeks remand pursuant to Sentence Six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) in light of
new evidence of Shane’s fragile mental state. A remand under Sentence Six for consideration of
additional evidence “is warranted only if the evidence is ‘new’ and ‘material’ and ‘good cause’ is
shown for the failure to present the evidence to the ALJ.” Ferguson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 628
F.3d 269, 276 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). When a claimant submits evidence
that was not presented to the ALJ, the Court considers that evidence solely for the limited
purpose of deciding whether to issue a Sentence Six remand. See Sizemore v. Sec’y of Health &
Human Servs., 865 F.2d 709, 711 (6th Cir. 1988). Further, the claimant bears the burden of
showing that remand under Sentence Six is appropriate. See Willis v. Sec’y of Health & Human
Servs., 727 F.2d 551, 553-54 (6th Cir. 1984).
Shane argues for a Sentence Six remand based on new evidence that she was hospitalized
for attempting suicide shortly after she received the unfavorable decision from the ALJ. [See Tr.
650-53.] Because Ms. Shane was not hospitalized until after her hearing, the Court finds the first
and third requirements for a Sentence Six remand are satisfied. See Ferguson, 628 F.3d at 276;
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). However, the Court agrees with the Magistrate’s determination that the
second requirement is not met, as the new evidence of Shane’s suicide attempt is not “material”
in light of what the ALJ already considered.
To satisfy her burden of proof as to materiality, Shane “must demonstrate that there was a
reasonable probability that the [ALJ] would have reached a different disposition of the disability
claim if presented with the new evidence.” Sizemore, 865 F.2d at 711. Shane argues the new
evidence undermines the ALJ’s findings that Shane’s mental health symptoms are well
controlled on medication and that she had never been psychiatrically hospitalized. [See R. 17 at
4-5.] But as Judge Atkins points out, the ALJ already considered the fact that Shane suffered
from suicidal thoughts and tendencies when she decided to deny Shane’s application for benefits.
More specifically, Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, §§ 12.04 and 12.06 of the Social
Security Regulations set out the criteria used to determine the severity of claimants’ affective and
anxiety disorders. When analyzing Shane’s mental health condition according to those
regulations, the ALJ determined Shane’s existing mental disorders imposed only mild limitations
on daily living activities and moderate restrictions on social functioning, because none of the “C”
criteria associated with § 12.04 or § 12.06 were satisfied. [Tr. 19.] The ALJ went on to note that
while Shane has “features” of depression and anxiety, she had no “marked limitations” on daily
living activities and no “repeated episodes of decompensation.” [Tr. 20 (emphasis added).]
Finally, the ALJ found that neither the subsection “B” or “C” criteria in §§ 12.04 and 12.06 were
satisfied, and Shane “does not meet or equal any subsection of listing section 12.00.” [Id.]
Although Shane does maintain the new evidence undermines the ALJ’s statements that
her symptoms were mostly controlled on medication and that she had never before been
psychiatrically hospitalized, Shane fails to explain how, if at all, the new evidence would alter
the ALJ’s analysis of §§ 12.04 and 12.06. [See R. 13-1 at 14; R. 17 at 4-5.] The Court has
reviewed the criteria set forth in §§ 12.04 and 12.06, and while the evidence of Ms. Shane’s
suicide attempt and resulting hospitalization would undoubtedly be relevant to the analysis, the
Court cannot find that the claimant has demonstrated a “reasonable probability” the ALJ would
have reached a different conclusion. See Sizemore, 865 F.2d at 711. Because Ms. Shane has not
carried her burden of proof, a Sentence Six remand is not required.
Accordingly, the Court hereby ORDERS as follows:
1. The Magistrate’s Report and Recommendation [R. 16] is ADOPTED as and for the
Opinion of the Court;
2. The Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 13] is DENIED, and her
objections [R. 17] are OVERRULED;
3. The Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 14] is GRANTED; and
4. Judgment shall be entered contemporaneously herewith.
This the 9th day of January, 2017.
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