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Farley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

October 24, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Joseph M. Hood, Senior U.S. District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-Motions for Summary Judgment (DE 10 and 12) on Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income.[2] The matter having been fully briefed by the parties is now ripe for this Court's review.

         I. Overview of the Process and the Instant Matter

         In determining whether an individual is disabled, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) uses a five step analysis:

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 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 do other work. If he cannot, the claimant is disabled.

Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Hum. Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994)(citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(1982)).


         Plaintiff filed his current application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) alleging disability beginning March 30, 2009 (Tr. 211).[3] It was denied initially and on reconsideration (Tr. 110, 131), and by an ALJ after a hearing (Tr. 11-33, 34-68). The Appeals Council declined Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-5), making the ALJ's June 15, 2015 decision the final agency decision for purposes of judicial review. 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(a).[4]This appeal followed and the case is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         Plaintiff was 49 years old at the time of his most recently filed application for SSI on January 10, 2013, and 51 years old at the time of the Commissioner's June 15, 2015, final decision now before the Court (Tr. 211). Plaintiff has an eighth-grade education with past relevant work as a company laborer (coal mining) (Tr. 63, 249). In his current application materials, Plaintiff alleged he became unable to work due to both physical and mental impairments (Tr. 248).

         Plaintiff has restricted his arguments to those issues specifically discussed below. Therefore, it is unnecessary to provide a recitation of the medical evidence not at issue in the case before the Court and discusses the evidence before the ALJ only with respect to those issues “argued” by Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff has received outpatient psychological treatment through Cumberland River Comprehensive Care (CompCare). In early October 2012, Plaintiff reported “no days of poor physical health” and reported having no chronic medical conditions in the past 12 months (Tr. 765). Plaintiff also reported having no symptoms of depression, but did report some mentally related symptoms (Tr. 766). Plaintiff reported that during the preceding 12 months, he had used opioid analgesics, as well as other sedatives, tranquilizers, or muscle relaxants that were not prescribed for him (Tr. 766-767).

         In March 2013, William R. Rigby, Ph.D., saw Plaintiff for a consultative mental examination (Tr. 959-964). Dr. Rigby observed that Plaintiff was fully alert and oriented x3 with significantly impaired concentration and attention. Intellectually, Plaintiff appeared to be functioning at a limited level. Dr. Rigby noted that it was unknown as to when his psychotic disturbance would have begun, but that Plaintiff's psychological conditions were likely to continue indefinitely. Dr. Rigby observed that Plaintiff's mood was depressed. He assessed Plaintiff with a moderate impairment in understanding, retaining, and following simple instructions and in sustaining concentration and persistence to complete tasks in a normal time. Dr. Rigby opined that Plaintiff had an extreme impairment in maintaining social interactions with supervisors, friends, and the public; and an extreme impairment in adapting and responding to the pressures of normal day-to-day work activity (Tr. 959-964).

         During the most recent administrative proceedings, state agency psychologist Cal VanderPlate, Ph.D., reviewed the record and opined that Plaintiff had the ability to understand, remember, and carry out simple one and two step instructions; maintain concentration, persistence and pace for two-hour periods; perform activities within a schedule; maintain regular attendance; be punctual and complete a normal workday and workweek; make simple work-related decisions; work in coordination with others without being distracted by them; relate adequately to the public, co-workers and supervisors; ask simple questions; accept instructions; respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; respond appropriately to changes in the work setting; and be aware of normal hazards (Tr. 105). Dr. VanderPlate noted Dr. Rigby's March 2013 consultative evaluation and that he did not concur with Dr. Rigby's assessment. Dr. VanderPlate pointed out that Plaintiff's current treating source noted mood was euthymic with no psychotic symptoms; history did not support the presence of any psychotic process; Plaintiff's report of hallucinations and delusions to Dr. Rigby was not considered legitimate ...

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