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Bridges v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

January 2, 2018

RICHARD BRIDGES PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          LANNY KING, MAGISTRATE JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's complaint seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the final decision of the Commissioner denying his claim for Social Security disability benefits. The fact and law summaries of Plaintiff and Defendant are at Dockets 15 and 16, and the case is ripe for determination.

         The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge to determine this case, with any appeal lying before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Docket 13.

         Because the administrative law judge's (ALJ's) decision is supported by substantial evidence and is in accord with applicable legal standards, the Court will AFFIRM the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISS Plaintiff's complaint.

         Procedural history

         In April 2016, the ALJ issued a decision. Administrative Record (AR), pp. 168-180.

         Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council. In June 2016, while the appeal was pending, Plaintiff submitted new medical evidence from March 2016. Jeffrey Schnell, Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM), noted that: “[Plaintiff's] bilateral ankle is unstable and weak with laxity and loss of stability noted with range of motion. With muscle testing the patient has pain in the ankle with palpation under stress. Pain is noted along both the lateral and medial side of the ankle with most of the pain coming from the lateral soft tissue structures.” AR, p. 725. Henri-Claude Richard, M.D., interpreted an imagining study as showing that Plaintiff also suffers from “arthritic changes affecting the lower cervical and mid dorsal vertebrae.” AR, p. 747.

         In August 2016, the Appeals Council considered this new evidence, found that it was material (i.e., if the evidence had been before the ALJ, there is a reasonable probability of a different decision), and remanded the case to the ALJ for reconsideration of the ALJ's decision in light of the new and material evidence. AR, pp. 186-187.

         In March 2017, the ALJ issued a new decision. The ALJ summarized the new and material evidence as consisting of: “evidence form a primary care provider [Dr. Schnell] showing arthritic changes affecting the lower cervical and mid dorsal vertebra [and] image study evidence [from Dr. Richards] showing osteoarthritic changes of the claimant's feet and medical examination showing instability and weakness with laxity in the bilateral ankles.” AR, pp. 33-34.

         The ALJ modified his prior findings; recognized that Plaintiff suffers from additional severe, or vocationally significant, impairments; and found that these impairments result in additional work- related restrictions.

         Whereas the prior decision found that Plaintiff suffers from severe “diabetes mellitus, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiomyopathy, and neuropathy” (AR, p. 170), the new decision added that he suffers from “obesity, tobacco abuse, arthritis of the back, and osteoarthritis of the bilateral ankles.” AR, p. 24.

         The prior decision found that Plaintiff's impairments limit him to a residual functional capacity (RFC) for light work[1] with the following additional restrictions: “limited to frequent use of the bilateral lower extremities for pushing, pulling or operation of foot controls, no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolding, limited to occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, limited to frequent crawling, and should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, unprotected heights, and moving machinery.” AR, p. 174. The new decision reaffirmed that Plaintiff is limited to light work but added that his impairments limit him to occasional (as opposed to frequent) use of the bilateral lower extremities (an accommodation to Plaintiff's osteoarthritis of the bilateral ankles); occasional (as opposed to frequent) crawling; occasional (as opposed to unrestricted) stooping and crouching; a need to avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and heat; and a need for a sit/stand option at thirty minute intervals. AR, p. 28.

         The ALJ found that additional limitations are unwarranted due to: “evidence of record as a whole demonstrating conservative medical treatment, and the claimant reporting engaging in activities including exercising daily by walking and lifting weights (Exhibit 8F) [AR, pp. 677-694], working part time as a forklift driver, and raking leaves (testimony).” AR, p. 34.

         The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision, subject to this judicial review, when the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's ...


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