United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. Reeves, United States District Judge
matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for
summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Dillard Guffey and
Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social
Security. [Record Nos. 23, 25] Guffey contends that the
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) assigned to his
case erred by denying his claims for a period of disability,
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). [Record No.
23] He requests that the Commissioner's decision be
reversed and that a decision be entered, finding him
disabled. [Id. at 9] As alternative relief, Guffey
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. 25] For the reasons discussed below,
the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny
the relief sought by Guffey.
filed applications on September 26, 2013 for a period of
disability and DIB under Title II and SSI under Title XVI of
the Social Security Act (“the Act”).
[Administrative Transcript, “Tr., ” 179, 187] He
alleged that his disability began on February 7, 2006, in the
applications, but subsequently amended his alleged onset date
to August 4, 2007. [Tr. 32] The Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) denied his applications
initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 77-80] Thereafter,
an administrative hearing was held before ALJ Peter Jung [Tr.
26-54] and the ALJ issued a written opinion. [Tr. 10-25]
Guffey then sought review by the Appeals Council, which was
denied. [Tr. 1]. Guffey has exhausted his administrative
remedies and his case is ripe for review pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
was fifty-three years old at the time of the ALJ's
decision. [Tr. 179] He has an eighth-grade education and has
been employed as a construction worker and carpenter for
twenty-seven years. [Tr. 32-33, 219-20] Guffey stopped
working in 2006 due to severe pain in his lower back,
shoulders, and neck. [Tr. 32-33, 219-20] Guffey testified
that he has suffered from lower back pain for approximately
fifteen years, but has worked through the pain in the past.
[Tr. 36] His back pain is aggravated by heavy lifting,
bending, and prolonged sitting or standing. [Id.] He
takes morphine to alleviate the pain. [Id.] He is
able to lift a gallon of milk, but has difficulty sitting in
straight-back chairs, and sleeps in a recliner rather than
flat on a bed. [Tr. 43, 37] His back pain radiates down into
his hips and legs, and he uses cruise control when he drives
because it hurts his hips to keep his foot on the gas pedal.
noted, Guffey testified that he has experienced pain in his
neck and shoulders for approximately fifteen years. [Tr.
37-38] He has experienced pain in his right arm for
approximately six years, and he recently began taking
medication for hand tremors. [Tr. 38, 41] Finally, Guffey
reported heartburn and difficulty swallowing and digesting
food. [Tr. 40]
Waltrip, M.D., performed a consultative examination of Guffey
on December 9, 2013. [Tr. 557-562] He noted that Guffey was
moderately obese, but observed no limitations in the range of
motion in his back, no muscle tenderness or muscle spasms,
and no loss of sensation in his back. [Tr. 559] Guffey could
walk with a normal gait, heal-to-toe and tandem, and without
an assistive device. [Id.] He could perform knee
squats and walk on the tip of his toes and heels.
[Id.] Dr. Waltrip also found no deformity, redness
or tenderness in any joint or extremity. [Id.]
Guffey could make a fist, had good grip strength, and could
perform fine manipulation. [Id.] His deep tendon
reflexes were normal. [Id.] Dr. Waltrip concluded
that Guffey has very minimal limitation of walking, standing
or sitting, no motor dysfunction, sensory loss, or reflex
abnormalities, and should be able to lift objects weighing up
to thirty-five to forty pounds without limitation. [Tr. 560]
underwent an MRI of his lumbar spine on March 10, 2014. [Tr.
581] The MRI revealed normal alignment, no disc bulge at
¶ 3/4, and a mild disc bulge at ¶ 4/5 with moderate
spurring endplates and facets and mild narrowing of the
foramina. [Id.] The MRI also noted moderate spurring
of the facets at the L5/S1 level, with mild narrowing of the
saw his treating physician, Sherrell Roberts, M.D., six times
regarding complaints of back pain from March through October
2014. [Tr. 603, 610, 612, 614, 618, 621] Dr. Roberts'
examinations indicated that Guffey was not in acute distress,
and examinations of his cervical, thoracic, and lumbosacral
spines did not indicate tenderness to palpation, pain,
swelling, edema or erythema of surrounding tissue.
Reed, M.D., reviewed Guffey's file and provided his
opinion regarding Guffey's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) on April 2, 2014 as part of the
reconsideration of Guffey's initial denial. [Tr. 81-100]
Dr. Reed found that Guffey had abilities consistent with
medium exertion work, and that he could lift or carry fifty
pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently. [Tr.
96] Dr. Reed believed that Guffey could stand and/or walk for
a total of six hours in an eight hour workday and sit with
normal breaks for a total of six hours in an eight hour
workday. [Id.] He noted no limitations in
Guffey's ability to push and/or pull, and no postural,
manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental
Roberts completed a physical assessment regarding
Guffey's ability to perform work-related activities on
October 1, 2015. [Tr. 745] Based on Guffey's MRI, Dr.
Roberts concluded that Guffey could stand, walk, and sit for
eight hours in an eight hour workday, but only one hour
without interruption, and that Guffey could only lift or
carry ten pounds occasionally. [Tr. 745-46] He believed that
Guffey could occasionally climb, kneel, crouch, stoop,
balance, and crawl, and that Guffey had no impairment
reaching, handling, feeling, seeing, hearing, or speaking.
[Tr. 746] However, he believed that Guffey's back would
not tolerate heavy pushing or pulling, and that temperature
extremes and vibration would worsen his back pain. [Tr.
746-747] As a result, Dr. Roberts did not feel that Guffey
could continue to work at the jobs he had performed in the
past. [Tr. 747]
Jung issued a decision on December 1, 2015, finding that
Guffey has not been under a disability since August 4, 2017,
his amended alleged onset date. [Tr. 10] The ALJ found that
Guffey had the following severe impairments: degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar spine, thoracic outlet syndrome, a
bilateral shoulder disorder, obesity, and gastro esophageal
reflux disease. [Tr. 15] However, ALJ Jung determined that
Guffey did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of the
listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
found that Guffey's medically determinable impairments
could reasonably be expected to cause the symptoms he
alleges, but that his allegations regarding intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects were not fully credible.
[Tr. 17] Specifically, the ALJ noted that, according to an
emergency room report from April 5, 2014, Guffey was injured
“tearing [a] building down, ” [Tr. 589],
suggesting that Guffey “may not be entirely forthright
in discussing his recent activity level.” [Tr. 18]
observed that “recent physical examinations note that
claimant is in no acute distress, has no pain or tenderness
to palpation of the upper or lower spine, and has normal
range of motion, normal gait, and no difficulty standing.
Treatment notes state that pain is controlled with
morphine.” [Tr. 17] Because the physical examinations
reported normal to nearly normal signs and findings of the
neck, back, and extremities, with normal gait and no
difficulty walking, the ALJ concluded that “it is
reasonable to expect that [Guffey] would be able to work
consistent with the limitations set forth by Dr. Waltrip,
whose opinion is given great weight as it is consistent with
the underlying medical treatment history . . . .” [Tr.
18] Similarly, the ALJ gave great weight to the medical
source statements of state agency medical consultant Dr. Jack
Reed, “whose opinion that claimant is capable of medium
work is also consistent with the overall evidence.”
[Id.] However, ALJ Jung gave little weight to the
medical source statements of treating physician Dr. Sherrell
Roberts, “whose opinion that claimant is limited to
lifting no more than ten pounds is inconsistent with the
underlying medical signs and findings showing few if any
abnormalities in claimant's neck, back, and extremities
as detailed above.” [Id.]
determined that Guffey has the RFC to lift and carry fifty
pounds occasionally and up to twenty-five pounds frequently.
[Id.] The ALJ found that Guffey is unable to perform
any past relevant work, but, based on vocational expert
testimony, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers
in the national economy that Guffey can perform, such as
dishwasher, dining room attendant, and linen room attendant.