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Roberts v. Berryhill

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

March 13, 2017

DAVID M. ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [*] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff David Roberts and Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. [Record Nos. 14, 16] Roberts contends that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") assigned to his case erred by denying his claim for supplemental security income benefits ("SSI"). [Record No. 14] He requests that the decision be reversed and that a judgment be entered finding him disabled. [Id. at 11 ] In the alternative, Roberts requests that his case be remanded for additional findings. [Id.] The Commissioner contends that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. [Record No. 16]

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the relief sought by Roberts.


         Roberts filed an application for SSI under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act") on October 18, 2013, alleging a disability beginning on April 28, 2012. [Administrative Transcript, "Tr., " at 140] The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied his application initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. at 79, 90] Roberts pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies with an administrative hearing before an ALJ [Tr. at 23], a written decision from the ALJ [Tr. at 11], and review by the Appeals Council [Tr. at 1]. His case is now ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         Roberts was 54 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision and has a high school equivalency ("GED") education. [Tr. at 17] Roberts worked on-and-off as a commercial carpenter for thirty-five years. [Tr. at 28-32, 79] He stopped working in 2012 following a rotator cuff injury. [Tr. at 32-33] At the time of the administrative hearing, Roberts lived with his mother, was able to drive himself and do his own shopping, and assisted with household chores, including cooking dinner. [Tr. at 27, 39, 51-52]

         Roberts contends that he is unable to work as a result of chronic pancreatitis and his shoulder injury. [Tr. at 34-35] According to his testimony, he has no trouble walking, and is able to lift a coffee cup to his mouth with his right hand. [Tr. at 35] He testifies that he is right-handed, and unable to lift a gallon of milk, run a vacuum cleaner, or do anything more strenuous with his dominant hand. [Tr. at 35-36] Specifically, he reports being unable to drive-in a nail or use a drill with his right hand, and that it is very awkward for him to do so with his left hand. [Tr. at 52]

         Roberts testified that has flare-ups of pancreatitis once or twice a month. [Tr. at 50] They last anywhere from two to four days, he reports, and during that time he is unable to walk, eat, or do anything. [Tr. at 50-51] He describes the pain as "feel[ing] like somebody's poured hot metal into [his] stomach." [Tr. at 50] Roberts also testified to suffering from insomnia and depression. The depression, he contends, causes him to cry, but has been better with medication. [Tr. at 39-40] He also reports insomnia, which he sometimes attempts to treat by consuming alcohol. [Tr. at 54] Roberts testified that he discontinued insomnia medication after it caused severe side-effects, such as using kitchen appliances in his sleep. [Tr. at 55]

         On November 15, 2013, Casey Alsop, S.D.M., reviewed Roberts's file. He provided an opinion regarding Roberts's residual functional capacity ("RFC") and made a disability finding. [Tr. at 71-79] He stated that Roberts could occasionally lift and carry 20 pounds, frequently lift and carry 10 pounds, but that pushing and pulling was limited with Roberts's right-upper extremity. [Tr. at 76] Alsop believed that Roberts could stand and/or walk for a total of six hours in an eight-hour day. [Id.] Further, he indicated that Roberts could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, and frequently stoop, kneel, and crouch, but that he could never climb ladders ropes or scaffolds, and could never crawl. [Tr. at 76-77] Alsop opined that Roberts was limited in reaching overhead with his right hand, but that his handling, fingering, and feeling was unlimited. [Tr. at 77] Based on the seven strength factors, Alsop found Roberts capable of performing light work, and ultimately determined that Roberts was not disabled. [Tr. at 79]

         As part of the reconsideration of Roberts's initial denial, Dr. Sudhideb Mukherjee, M.D., reviewed Roberts's file on January 22, 2014, and provided his opinion regarding Roberts's RFC. [Tr. at 86-89] Dr. Mukherjee's opinion mirrored that of Alsop. [Id.] During this reconsideration, Roberts was again found capable of light work, and was deemed not disabled. [Tr. at 90]

         ALJ Kevin Detherage issued a decision on June 1, 2015, finding that Roberts has not been under a disability since October 18, 2013 (the date of his application). [Record No. 18] The ALJ found that Roberts suffers from the following severe impairments: history of right shoulder rotator cuff tear, pancreatitis, GERD, hypertension, substance abuse disorder (alcohol), and depression. [Tr. at 13] The ALJ found that none of the claimant's disorders meet or medically equal a listed impairment. [Tr. at 14] Specifically, the shoulder impairment does not meet listing 1.02(B)-Major Dysfunction of Joints for Any Cause-because only one upper extremity is involved. [Id.] The ALJ also determined that Roberts's pancreatic condition does not meet any of the 5.00 listings for the digestive system. [Id.] Finally, the ALJ concluded that the claimant's depression and substance abuse do not meet the severity requirements for 12.04, Affective Disorder, or for 12.09, Substance Addiction Disorder. [Id.]

         The ALJ determined that Roberts's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the symptoms he alleges (i.e., persisting right-arm limitations and incapacitating pancreatic flare-ups), but that his allegations regarding intensity, persistence, and limiting effects are not fully credible. [Tr. at 15] Specifically, with regard to shoulder pain, the ALJ discussed the medical reports of claimant's treating physician, Dr. Holladay. In a September 2013 examination, Dr. Holladay reported that Roberts had a full range of motion with his right shoulder, and that his strength was "very good." [Id.] During that same examination in the fall of 2013, Roberts self-reported that he could lift a gallon of milk above his head without bending his elbow, that he could carry a 20-pound bag of potatoes at his right side, and that his shoulder allowed him to return to work full-time at his regular job. [Id.] In his final visit to Dr. Holladay on October 4, 2013, Roberts was given permission to return to work at full duty. [Id.] The ALJ noted that Dr. Holladay was surely aware of the intensity of claimant's previous work duties, yet imposed no restrictions on use of his right arm for lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling, or reaching. [Tr. at 15-16] Roberts claims to still have a limited range of motion and pain in his right shoulder, yet he has never returned to Dr. Holladay or sought further treatment for shoulder pain. [Tr. at 16] Treatment records of Roberts's current physician show no ongoing complaints of shoulder pain. [Id.]

         Regarding pancreatic-flare ups, the ALJ found that Roberts downplays the extent of his drinking, and is not credible in denying the relationship between the flare-ups and his ongoing alcohol use. [Tr. at 16] The ALJ further discounted Roberts's credibility in light of his spotty work history and his failure to seek any work following recovery from his shoulder surgery. [Id.]

         The ALJ concluded that Roberts retains the exertional capacity for medium work. [Tr. at 16] The ALJ gave reduced weight to the contrary opinions of the agency consultants. [Id.] Dr. Mukherjee did not personally examine Roberts, and the ALJ found Mukherjee's opinion contrary to the evaluations of treating-physician Dr. Holladay. [Id.] The ALJ determined that, based on Roberts's age, education, work experience, and RFC, he is capable of adjusting to other jobs that are numerous ...

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