Fletcher v. SSA
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: Pla's Motion for Summary Judgment 11 be OVERRULED and Dft's Motion for Summary Judgment 13 be SUSTAINED. A judgment in favor of Dft will be entered contemporaneously herewith. Signed by Judge Henry R. Wilhoit, Jr., on 9/26/2017. (RCB)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
Civil Action No. 16-130-HRW
JIMMY FRANKLIN FLETCHER,
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 Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income benefits. The Court having reviewed the record in this case and the dispositive
motions filed by the parties, and being otherwise 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 and supplemental
security income benefits in April 2013, alleging disability due to incontinence, nerve damage in
his groin area, herniated discs in his back, a stomach hernia, chipped ankle bones, a torn rotator
cuff, migraine headaches, depression, and anxiety (Tr. 306, 353, 388) .. This application was
denied initially and on reconsideration. Thereafter, upon request by Plaintiff, an administrative
hearing was conducted by Administrative Law Judge William Wallis (hereinafter "ALJ"), wherein
Plaintiff, accompanied by counsel, testified. At the hearing, Dennis Duffin, 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 impairments) meets or medically equals
a listed impairment contained in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4, the claimant is
disabled without further inquiry.
Step 4: If the claimant's impairment (or impairments) 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 performing
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 not
The ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled.
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 determined, at Step 2, that Plaintiff suffers from disorder of the back,
migraine headaches, history of right shoulder trauma and strain, affective I mood disorder and
anxiety disorder, which he found to be "severe" within the meaning of the Regulations.
At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs impairments did not meet or medically equal any
of the listed impairments.
The ALJ further found that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work, and, further, but
determined that he has the residual functional capacity to lift, carry, push, pull 20 pounds
occasionally, I 0 pounds frequently; stand and or walk six hours in an eight-hour workday,
could also sit six hours in an eight-hour workday; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, could
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl;
occasionally reach overhead with the dominant right upper extremity; avoid concentrated
exposure to cold and vibrations and avoid all exposure to heights and moving machinery;
understand, remember, and carry out simple tasks and instructions; sustain concentration,
attention, and persistence on simple tasks for two-hour periods; interact occasionally with
supervisors and co-workers but never with the general public; and respond appropriately to
routine workplace changes with reasonable support.
Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not to be disabled.
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 parties have filed Motions for Summary 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. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 667
F.2d 524, 535 (6 1h Cir. 1981 ), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983). "The court may not try the case
de nova nor resolve conflicts in evidence, nor decide questions of credibility." Bradley v.
Secretary of Health and Human Services, 862 F.2d 1224, 1228 (6 1h Cir. 1988). Finally, this Court
must defer to the Commissioner's decision "even if there 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 Cir.1997).
On appeal, Plaintiff maintains that the ALJ did not properly evaluate the opinions from the
medical sources in the record.
When evaluating medical opinions, an ALJ considers numerous factors, including whether
the physician examined the claimant, whether the doctor treated the claimant, the evidence the
doctor presents to support his or her opinion, whether the doctor's opinion is consistent with the
record as a whole, and the doctor's specialty. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927( c).
Generally, a treating physician's opinion is entitled to more weight and an ALJ must give
good reasons for discounting the opinion. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.902, 416.927(c)(2); See also,
Gayheart v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 710 F.3d 365, 376 (6th Cir. 2013). An examining physician's
opinion, however, is not entitled to any special deference or consideration. Smith v. Comm 'r of
Soc. Sec., 482 F.3d 873, 876 (6th Cir. 2007). Moreover, an ALJ may discount a physician's
opinion, treating or otherwise, when the physician does not provide objective medical evidence to
support his or her opinion or if the doctor's opinion is inconsistent with the record as a whole. 20
C.F.R. § 416.927( c). In addition, although a physician's opinion about what a claimant can still
do or the claimant's restrictions may be relevant evidence, such opinions are not determinative
because the ALJ has the responsibility of assessing the claimant's RFC. 20 C.F.R. §§
416.912(b)(2), 416.913(b)(6), 416.927(d)(2), 416.945(a)(3), 416.946( c).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly discounted the opinion of his treating physician,
Charles Hardin, M.D.
On February 5, 2015, Dr. Hardin completed a medical assessment and opined that Mr.
Fletcher could stand and walk less than 2 hours in an 8-hour day, sit less than 2 hours in an 8 hour
day, occasionally lift 5 pounds, occasionally use the right and left hand, never bend and stoop, and
occasionally balance and climb stairs. (Tr. 933).
The ALJ discussed Dr. Hardin's opinion and found that it was not supported by his
treatment notes or by the other medical evidence in the record. As the ALJ sufficiently stated his
reasons, and those reasons are bourne out by the record, the Court finds no error in this regard.
Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ did not properly evaluate the examining physicians,
Deidre Parsley, D.O. and William, Rigby, Ph.D.
On August 20, 2013, Dr. Parsley examined Plaintiff at the request of the state agency (Tr.
774-82). Plaintiff complained of nerve damage from testicular surgery, back pain, migraine
headaches, depression, and anxiety (Tr. 774). Dr. Parsley diagnosed chronic lumbalgia;
hypertension; morbid obesity; chronic nicotine dependence and chest pain; and nerve damage due
to right orchiectomy, herniated discs of the lumbar spine, migraine headaches, depression, anxiety
disorder, high cholesterol, mild coronary artery disease, transient ischemic attack, gastric reflux,
and hiatal hernia by history (Tr. 780). Dr. Parsley found that Plaintiff did not need assistance
getting on or off the examination table or use a handheld assistive device and had negative straight
leg raising test on the right, preserved sensation and fine manipulation, and slightly decreased
strength throughout (Tr. 780-81 ). However, he ambulated with a limping gait; had decreased
range of motion in his lower back and hips and grip strength; could only squat halfway due to low
back pain and walk a few steps on his heels; and could not stand on his right leg, or walk on his
toes (Tr. 780-81 ). She said Plaintiff had an impairment in prolonged sitting, standing, walking,
squatting, stooping, crawling, kneeling, and bending (Tr. 781-82). She said he might have
impairment to frequent lifting, carrying, and pushing and pulling heavy objects and grasping,
gripping, and handling objects, more so with the left hand than the right (Tr. 782).
As the ALJ noted Dr. Parsley only assessed very vague limitations without specific
exertional or nonexertional limitations and did not use definitive terms (Tr. 781-82). Therefore,
the ALJ did not err in assigning little weight to her opinion.
Doctor Rigby examined Plaintiff at the request of the state agency on August 20, 2013 (Tr.
784-88). Plaintiff complained of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks (Tr. 784). Dr. Rigby found
that he was alert, oriented, and cooperative and had intact concentration and attention; average to
above average intellectual functioning; and intact memory, but depressed mood and restricted
affect (Tr. 785). Dr. Rigby diagnosed panic disorder with agoraphobia and depressive disorder
(Tr. 787). Dr. Rigby said Plaintiff had no impairment on understanding, retaining, and following
simple instructions, and sustaining concentration and persistence to complete tasks in a normal
time (Tr. 787). However, he said he had marked impairment on maintaining social interactions
with supervisors, friends, and the public and adapting and responding to the pressures day-to-day
work activities (Tr. 787).
The ALJ found Dr. Rigby' s opinion was inconsistent with his own report, which, as
discussed above, showed that Plaintiff was alert, oriented, and cooperative and had intact
concentration and attention; average to above average intellectual functioning; and intact memory
(Tr. 785) and assigned a GAF score which indicates only "[s]ome mild symptoms" and that a
person is "generally functioning pretty well, [and] has some meaningful interpersonal
relationships." See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(3). Given the inconsistency, the ALJ did not err in
assigning his opinion little weight.
Plaintiff further argues that the ALJ erred by not reasonably evaluating the opinion of
Jennifer Meyer, Ph.D. a state agency psychologist.
In November 2013, Doctor Meyer reviewed the evidence and said Plaintiff seemed
capable of working without excessive supervision or assistance and working with others, and of
sustaining attention to complete simple, repetitive tasks for two-hour segments over an eight-hour
workday; engaging in brief, structured interactions with others, but seemed best suited for work in
settings that required minimal social interaction, especially with unfamiliar persons; and
completing simple, repetitive tasks in most settings adapting to simple and gradual changes in the
work environment (Tr. 133-51).
Plaintiff asserts that, while the ALJ gave Dr. Meyer's opinions "significant weight," he
did not include her opinion that he was limited to "simple, repetitive tasks" for two hour segments
and was "best suited for work in settings that require minimal social interaction, especially with
unfamiliar persons" in his residual functional capacity.
The Court is not persuaded that the ALJ' s findings do not defer to those of Dr. Meyer.
There is nothing facially inconsistent with the ALJ's finding that he could "interact occasionally
with supervisors and coworkers, but never the general public" (Tr. 39) and Dr. Meyer's opinion
that he was "best suited for work in settings that require minimal social interaction, especially
unfamiliar persons" (Tr. 133-51 ).
Finally, Plaintiff claims that the hypothetical presented to the VE was flawed and,
therefore, the VE's response cannot be considered substantial evidence which supports the ALJ's
decision. However, the Court finds that the hypothetical accurately portrayed the claimant's
abilities and limitations, as required by Varley v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 820
F.2d 777 (6 1h Cir. 1987) and its progeny. This rule is necessarily tempered by the requirement that
the ALJ incorporate only those limitations which he or she finds to be credible. Casey v.
Secretary of Health and Human Services, 987 F.2d 1230, 1235 (6 1h Cir. 1993).
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 Summary Judgment be SUSTAINED. A
judgment in favor of the Defendant will be entered contemporaneously herewith.
JU ~day of September, 201 7.
Henry R. Wilhoit. Jr.
United States District Judge
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