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Whitaker v. Colvin

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

September 26, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


JOSEPH M. HOOD, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon cross-motions for summary judgment [DE 10 and 11] on Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of her 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.


Plaintiff was 43 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 21, 170), had an eighth grade education, and had worked in the past as a custodian, a housekeeper, and a hand packer (Tr. 43, 196-197). Plaintiff alleged disability onset on November 15, 2009 (Tr. 164) due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), hyperlipidemia, bi-polar disorder, seizure disorder, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome (Tr. 195). Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental security income (SSI) on April 15, 2010 (Tr. 170-173, 205). An administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing on February 14, 2012 (Tr. 28-47) and issued an unfavorable decision on March 16, 2012 (Tr. 11-21). After considering the testimony and evidence of record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a reduced range of light work (Tr. 17-19). In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ considered the report of a consultative examination from consultative examiner Karen Grantz, Psy.D. The ALJ also considered and gave greater weight to the opinion of state agency consultative physician, Carlos X. Hernandez, M.D., than to that of treating nurse practitioner Shannon Stephens.

Dr. Hernandez opined that Plaintiff could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; she could stand, walk and sit six hours each in an eight hour day; she could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch and could never climb ladders ropes or scaffolds (Tr. 57-58). Dr. Hernandez also opined that Plaintiff was limited to frequent reaching with the right upper extremity and frequent handling and fingering bilaterally (Tr. 58). He further found Plaintiff needed to avoid concentrated heat, cold, and pulmonary irritants and needed to avoid all exposure to hazards (Tr. 59). The ALJ gave great weight to Dr. Hernandez's opinion because he found it was consistent with the medical evidence as a whole (Tr. 19).

Nurse Practitioner Stephens wrote a letter in August 2010 in which she opined that a disability claim was in Plaintiff's best interest (Tr. 517). Ms. Stephens later filled out opinion forms in November 2010 in which she opined Plaintiff could lift and carry less than ten pounds occasionally, could sit and stand about two hours each in an eight hour day, could never climb, crouch, kneel, or crawl and could occasionally balance and stoop (Tr. 594-595). Ms. Stephens also opined that Plaintiff was limited to an unstated degree in reaching, handling, pushing, pulling and speaking and that she was restricted from heights, moving machinery, temperature extremes, dust, chemicals, fumes, humidity and vibration (Tr. 595). Ms. Stephens also indicated that Plaintiff could not perform her past work, could not perform "sustained handwork" while sitting for six to eight hours or "sustained clerical or sales work" while standing six to eight hours; she could not perform sustained lifting or carrying, drive a motor vehicle, or stand and work operating hand or foot controls for six to eight hours; and she could not relate to coworkers, handle the stress of productive work activity, or maintain regular attendance or attention and concentration (Tr. 596).

Ultimately, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work history, RFC and vocational expert testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy (Tr. 20). Therefore, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 20-21). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 13, 2013 (Tr. 1-3). This case is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1383(c)(3).


The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), conducts a five-step analysis to determine disability:

1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity is not disabled, regardless of the claimant's medical condition.
2. An individual who is working but does not have a "severe" impairment which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities is not disabled.
3. If an individual is not working and has a severe impairment which "meets the duration requirement and is listed in appendix 1 or is equal to a listed impairment(s)", then he is disabled regardless of other factors.
4. If a decision cannot be reached based on current work activity and medical facts alone, and the claimant has a severe impairment, then the Secretary reviews the claimant's residual functional capacity and the physical and mental demands of the claimant's previous work. If the claimant is able to continue to do this previous work, then he is not disabled.
5. If the claimant cannot do any work he did in the past because of a severe impairment, then the Secretary considers his residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience to see if he can ...

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