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Combs v. Berryhill

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

February 16, 2018

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



         Plaintiff Joyce Regina Combs brings this matter under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Court, having reviewed the record, will AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision as it is supported by substantial evidence.


         In determining disability, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) uses a five step analysis. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). Step One considers whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; Step Two, whether any of the claimant's impairments are “severe”; Step Three, whether the impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step Four, whether the claimant can still perform his past relevant work; and Step Five, whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the Commissioner. Id.; see also Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">107');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">107, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">10 (6th Cir. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1994).


         Plaintiff filed applications for Title II disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Title XVI supplemental security income (“SSI”) alleging disability as of November 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1. [TR 282-89]. Plaintiff's claims were initially denied and denied again on reconsideration. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">150-52, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">174-75, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">176-97]. Plaintiff then requested a hearing on the matter, which was held November 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">10, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">101');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1-33]. ALJ Don Paris held the hearing and issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's claims on January 22, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">16. [TR 67-87]. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ ruling on January 25, 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1-6]. This appeal followed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Consistent with the Court's Standing Scheduling Order, the parties have submitted cross motions for summary judgment, which are ripe for review. [DE 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13].

         Combs was 41');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 years old when she filed for benefits and claimed disability since November 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 when she was 37 years old. [TR 81');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1]. Combs estimates her height and weight at 5'3 and 263 pounds. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">107] She obtained her GED and is able to read, write, and do simple math. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">108]. Plaintiff worked as a legal secretary for more than three years and her most recent work was as a caseworker at the Child Support Office. [Id.]. She also previously worked as a cashier and in various positions at restaurants. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">109]. Plaintiff alleges she is unable to work due to a range of physical impairments. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">102].

         At the hearing in front of the ALJ, Combs testified about her medical history and conditions. She alleges she suffers from osteoarthritis, a joint effusion, bone spurs, diarrhea, COPD, masses in her genitalia, Lichen Planus on her hands, feet, and genitalia, nasal tumors, anxiety, and sharp pain in her back, legs, and foot. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">108-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">120].

         Combs testified that her medical problems restrict her ability to move for extended periods. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17]. She claims to have trouble bending or squatting. She cannot walk for more than a short time and has pain in her wrists. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">17-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">18]. The pain in her hands makes it difficult to hold anything when cooking and cleaning. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">128]. Combs also claims to sleep only four to five hours per night, as she frequently has bowel movements. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">120]. Plaintiff states that her bowel problems can cause her to use the restroom up to twenty times per day, and sometimes she does not even know when it occurs. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">128-29]. She testified she keeps a commode next to her bed. Combs has taken a variety of medicine for pain, arthritis, anxiety, and depression; she also requires oxygen to treat her COPD. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">19].

         As far back as 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1986, Combs sought treatment at Mountain Comprehensive Care (“MCC”) for a range of symptoms including a cough, skin problems, headaches, shortness of breath, and back and hip pain. [TR 407-508]. In 2009, Combs was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and acute anxiety. [TR 428, 432]. Plaintiff also went to MCC seeking treatment for a cough in August 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 and was diagnosed with acute bronchitis with wheezing-shortly before she allegedly became disabled. [TR 41');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">10-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12]. Her next treatment came eleven months later, in July 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12, when visited primary care provider Dr. Frank Mongiardo for sinus problems. [TR 51');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13]. Dr. Mongiardo told Combs she had a tumor in her sinuses. Dr. Mongiardo later conducted a CT scan, which showed a mucus retention cyst. [TR 51');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">10]. A spirometry test indicated a mild breathing restriction. [TR 51');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1]. Dr. Mongiardo diagnosed Combs with chromic sinusitis, facial pain, dyspnea, and wheezing. [TR 51');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15].

         By mid-201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13, Combs started visiting Ace Clinique of Medicine where she continued to go through 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15 for treatment of pain in her shoulder, hip, back, neck, and abdominal, as well as heartburn. [TR 533-59, 568-71');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 574-79]. A June 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13 MRI showed mild osteoarthritis in both hips, minimal right-sided joint effusion, and no evidence of avascular necrosis or any evidence of bursitis. [TR 550]. An echocardiography report in August 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13 indicated a small left ventricle with normal left ventricular function and estimated ejection fraction of 50 to 60 percent, as well as some diastolic dysfunction. [TR 548-59].

         Combs visited the Appalachian Orthopedic and Spine Center twice in 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13 after experiencing back, leg, and hip pain. [TR 593-99]. Her weight at that time was 285 pounds and she had a body mass index (“BMI”) of 50.5 kg/m2. [TR 596]. Her assessment showed osteoarthritis of the right hip, trochanteric bursitis of both hips, lumbar disc degeneration, and lumbar canal stenosis. [TR 598]. Combs went to Ballard Wright, M.D. in July 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13 and February 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14 complaining of low back pain and hip pain. [TR 526-32]. Dr. Wright found Combs suffering from degenerative spine disease, lumbar facet arthropathy, sacroiliitis, osteoarthritis, lumbar radiculopathy, chronic pain, and abdominal/pelvic pain. [TR 526-27]. Plaintiff also sought treatment from George Caney, M.D., in January and February 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14 for abdominal pain. [TR 521');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1-25]. Plaintiff went back to MCC twice in 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15 for treatment of shortness of breath and complications from COPD. [TR 580-91');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1]. During the June 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15 visit to MCC, doctors noted several problems including COPD, obesity, hypertension, and irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”). [TR 583]. And during the October 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15 visit, Combs's problems also included lichen planus and chronic diarrhea. [TR 605-08].

         Throughout her treatment, Combs received an array of imaging and testing. A right shoulder x-ray in April 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13 showed minimal osteophyte formation at the level of the acromioclavicular joint, minimal lumbar curvature convex, minimal right-sided SI joint sclerosis, and minimal lumbar spondylosis. [TR 556]. An MRI of the right hip and pelvis in June 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13 indicated mild osteoarthritis in both hips and minimal right-sided joint effusion. [TR 550]. A transvaginal pelvic ultrasound examination in April 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13 showed a cyst near the left ovary and a uterine leiomyoma. [TR 551');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1]. An April 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13 chest x-ray showed no acute infiltration. [TR 553]. An MRI of the lumbar spine in April 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13 found bulging discs and osteophyte formation in two locations, a minimal bulging disc in another spot, a complex cystic abnormality in the left hemipelvis, and no disc herniation. [TR 554-55]. A sleep study in April 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13 showed mild obstructive sleep apnea. [TR 509]. A spirometry report in May 201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13 indicated mild restriction in airflow. [TR 51');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">19].

         The record also includes medical source opinions from two state agency doctors, Allen Dawson, M.D., and Jack Reed, M.D. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">158, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">182]. Dr. Dawson opined that Combs could (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1) lift and carry up twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently (2) stand and walk for a total of six hours in a work day, (3) sit for a total of about six hours, (4) occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stop, kneel, or crouch, (5) frequently balance, and (6) never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, or crawl. [TR 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">158-59, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">168]. Dr. Dawson further ...

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