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Parker v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

July 12, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge

         This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment[1] filed by Plaintiff Jennifer Parker and Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner.”) [Record Nos. 17');">17');">17');">17, 19] Parker argues that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in concluding that she was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (“Act”). Specifically, she asserts that the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinion evidence in determining her residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and that she made other errors of law. Parker requests an award of benefits in her favor or, alternatively, that this matter be remanded for further administrative proceedings. The Commissioner contends the ALJ properly evaluated the evidence of record and that the ALJ's decision should be affirmed. She further contends that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.

         For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's motion will be granted and the administrative decision denying benefits will be affirmed.

         I. Procedural History

         On August 5, 2013, Parker filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, (“DIB”), alleging an onset of disability of September 19, 2008. [Administrative Transcript, hereafter, “Tr., ” 147] After being denied initially and on reconsideration, Parker requested an administrative hearing. [Tr. 92, 97, 104] On June 11, 2015, she appeared before ALJ Bonnie Kittinger in Lexington, Kentucky. [Tr. 13-47] ALJ Kittinger denied benefits in a written decision dated July 28, 2015, which the Appeals Council affirmed. [Tr. 77-86, 1-7] Accordingly, the claimant has exhausted her administrative remedies and this matter is ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Background

         Parker was 50-years-old at the time of the ALJ's decision. [Tr. 18] She worked for 28 years as a secretary/receptionist, but was laid off in September 2008 when her office closed. [Tr. 22] Although Parker had health problems, she drew unemployment benefits for nearly two years after being laid off and was required to seek work during that time. [Tr. 22-24] At the time of her application, Parker believed she could no longer work due to her diabetes, diverticulitis, dizziness, and an inability to walk for prolonged periods. [Tr. 25, 33, 36] Parker reported that she could lift no more than ten pounds without hurting herself. [Tr. 27] She estimated that she was able to stand or walk for approximately fifteen minutes before needing to sit down. [Tr. 27]

         Parker was married and had a driver's license, but did not drive frequently. [Tr. 19-20, 395] During her administrative hearing, she described the previous day as follows: she wore her CPAP machine until 11:00 a.m., ate a sandwich for lunch, and did laundry until her husband got home at around 5:00 p.m. [Tr. 28-30] Parker and her husband then went to visit her mother in a rehabilitation center before attending church that evening. Parker reported that she watched a lot of television and that her husband did most of the household chores. [Tr. 31] Parker also reported that she did “some crocheting” and went shopping every two or three weeks. [Tr. 30-31]

         The record contains a collection of treatment notes from Parker's primary care providers, Dr. Anil Harrison and Physician Assistant Rebecca Rankin. Harrison and Rankin treated Parker for a variety of conditions including diabetes mellitus and hypothyroidism. Parker underwent a colonoscopy in May 2012. That procedure indicated that she suffered from diverticulosis. [Tr. 619] Parker was encouraged to increase her water intake and eat a high fiber diet. [Tr. 674] Parker was referred to Dr. Wendell Miers in 2010 for management of her Type II diabetes, which was diagnosed in 2007. [Tr. 320] The record suggests that there were some difficulties managing Parker's blood sugar and that Dr. Miers made medication changes as necessary. [Tr. 325, 358] Miers also educated Parker concerning lifestyle changes.

         Parker participated in physical therapy for several weeks in early 2012 to address her balance issues. [Tr. 266-309] She showed improvement, but eventually stopped attending therapy because of issues with her diabetes. [Tr. 267-68] She also completed a pulmonary function study in October 2013, which indicated “very mild restrictive pulmonary disease.” [Tr. 400]

         State consultant Dr. Robert Brown reviewed Parker's case in November 2013. [Record No. 57] Noting Parker's mild COPD, diverticulitis, and diabetes, Brown believed that she could occasionally lift/carry 50 pounds and frequently lift/carry 25 pounds. He further opined that she could stand, walk, or sit about six hours in an eight-hour work day. Brown believed Parker had the unlimited ability to push and pull. Dr. Paul Saranga reviewed the file upon reconsideration. [Tr. 71] He agreed with the limitations that Dr. Brown had assessed, but added postural limitations for climbing, balancing, stooping, crouching, and crawling. [Tr. 69-70] Additionally, he opined that Parker should avoid concentrated exposure to vibration, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation.

         Cristi Hundley, Ph.D. performed a mental status evaluation. [Tr. 395-398] Parker reported many medical problems but advised Hundley that a doctor had not restricted her activity. [Tr. 395] Hundley observed that Parker wore heeled sandals and walked slowly, but without an assistive device. Her memory was intact in all respects. She responded appropriately to questions regarding judgment and abstract reasoning, and was able to perform simple calculations. Hundley opined that Parker's ability to understand and remember simple instructions was fair to good, as was her ability to maintain attention and concentration. [Tr. 398] She assigned Parker a global assessment of functioning (“GAF”) score of 75, indicating very mild limitations in functioning. See, e.g., Covucci v. Apfel, 31 F. App'x 909, 913 (6th Cir. 2002).

         ALJ Kittinger determined that Parker did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met a listing under 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. However, she concluded that Parker had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diverticulitis, and obesity. After considering the entire record, the ALJ found that Parker had the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). Specifically, the ALJ concluded that Parker was able to:

lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally, ten pounds frequently, and she was able to stand/walk up to six hours, sit at least six hour in an eight-hour workday. She was able to occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, and she could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant ...

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