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Lunsford v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Eastern Division, Ashland

September 26, 2014

DALE R. LUNSFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

JOSEPH M. HOOD, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon cross-motions for summary judgment [DE 13 and 14] on Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI).[1] The Court, having reviewed the record in this case and the motions filed by the parties, finds that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge is supported by substantial evidence, and, thus, the Court will grant Defendant's motion and deny Plaintiff's motion.

I.

Plaintiff was 47 years of age as of his alleged disability onset date, December 31, 2009. He has a high school level education and worked in the past as a pipefitter, a skilled job with a specific vocational preparation ("SVP") of 7. Plaintiff stopped working in December 2009, and claimed that he could no longer work due to tremors, anxiety, back pain, panic attacks and a heart attack. Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning December 31, 2009.

His claim was initially denied on October 20, 2010, and upon reconsideration on December 15, 2010. On December 21, 2010, he filed a written request for a hearing, which was held on February 29, 2012, at which time he appeared and testified. Anthony T. Michael Jr., a vocational expert, also testified. Hon. Maria Hodges, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), denied the claim in a written opinion dated March 29, 2012.

The ALJ found Plaintiff had severe impairments of anxiety disorder, depression, right hand tremors, and mild myocarditis. The ALJ then found that Plaintiff's impairments either individually or in combination did not meet or equal a listed impairment. Next, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") for medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c) except that he could frequently climb ramp/stairs, occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and frequently kneel, stoop, crouch, and crawl. The ALJ further limited Plaintiff's use of his right arm to occasional overhead reaching, frequent gross manipulation, and occasional fine manipulation. The ALJ found Plaintiff had mental limitations such that he could manage frequent contacts with supervisors and coworkers but should avoid interaction with public. Plaintiff was also limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks, low stress jobs with only occasional changes in work setting, and no production rate jobs.

In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ considered a number of sources and, relevant to the issues on appeal, gave great weight to the 2010 report of agency consultative examiner Emily Skaggs, Psy.D. The ALJ also considered and accorded little weight to the 2012 report of Leigh Ford, Ph.D., who had examined Plaintiff at the request of counsel.

Given Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work. However, based upon the testimony of the vocational expert in response to a hypothetical based on the RFC, the ALJ found that other work existed in significant numbers that Plaintiff could perform if one took into consideration Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience. Because Plaintiff could perform other work, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled.

On April 11, 2012, Mr. Lunsford filed a written appeal to the Appeals Council, which subsequently upheld the decision of the ALJ. This case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

II.

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews this administrative decision to determine "whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards." Ealy v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 594 F.3d 504, 512 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Substantial evidence" is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (quoting Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601, 604 (6th Cir. 2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted). In other words, as long as an administrative decision is supported by "substantial evidence, " this Court must affirm, regardless of whether there is evidence in the record to "support a different conclusion." Lindsley, 560 F.3d at 604-05 (citing Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th Cir. 1994)) (internal quotation marks omitted) ("administrative findings are not subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence exists in the record to support a different conclusion").

III.

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision and, thus, the Commissioner's final decision, is not supported by substantial evidence of record because of her reliance on the report of consultative examiner, Emily Skaggs, Psy.D., in formulating the RFC for Plaintiff. [Pl.'s Br., at 8-9.] The Court has considered this argument, the United States' response to it in its Motion for Summary Judgment, and the Administrative Record ("AR") in this matter and concludes that the ALJ properly evaluated Dr. Skaggs' opinion and gave the opinion appropriate weight. Thus, the Commissioner's decision is, in fact, supported by substantial evidence of record, contrary to Plaintiff's argument.

Dr. Skaggs saw Plaintiff on August 4, 2010 to evaluate Plaintiff's mental impairments and noted Plaintiff's complaints of depression, anxiety and panic attacks. [AR at 396-400.] Dr. Skaggs observed that Plaintiff was able to successfully complete mental status tests, including spelling the word "world" backwards and repeating serial 3's backwards from 20. [AR at 398.] Dr. Skaggs observed that Plaintiff's attention to task and concentration appeared normal, he was alert and oriented, and he had no deficits in memory [AR 398.] Plaintiff also had normal eye contact, he was cooperative, his affect was appropriate, and his mood was good [AR at 398.] Plaintiff's thought content was also appropriate, his thought process was ...


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