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Williams v. Berryhill

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

February 23, 2018

KIMBER LEANN WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Danny C. Reeves, United States District Judge.

         This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff Kimber Leann Williams contends the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) assigned to her case erred by denying her claim for disability income benefits (“DIB”). [Record No. 11] She asks the Court to direct a finding of disability or, alternatively, remand the matter for further administrative proceedings. Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) argues that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. [Record No. 13] For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's motion will be granted. The relief Williams seeks will be denied.

         I.

         Williams filed an application for a period of disability and DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) in January 2015. [Administrative Transcript, hereafter, “Tr., ” 156] She alleged a disability as of December 3, 2014.[1" name="FN1" id= "FN1">1] [Tr. 20] The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied her application initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 81, 82] Williams then pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies. The case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

         Williams was 56 years-old at the time of the ALJ's decision. [Tr. 35] She has a high school education in addition to some transcription courses after high school. Williams has primarily worked as a medical transcriptionist, in medical registration, and as a receptionist over a period of 16 years. [Tr. 36-40] She reported in her application for benefits that she is unable to work due to osteoarthritis, gout, and hypertension. [Tr. 184] Williams contends that she suffers from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis effecting her hands, hips, and knees. [Tr. 41]

         William was treated by nurse practitioner Jessica Sexton, FNP, of Mountain People's Health Counsels, Inc., in February 2015. [Tr. 344] Sexton noted that Williams was slow to change positions, but presented with a steady gait. [Tr. 349] Additionally, she reported that Williams complained of generalized arthritic pain and multiple joint pain with increased pain and decreased strength in her hands. No. nodes were noted and her strength was documented as 4/5 bilaterally. Id. Williams also presented with bilateral hip pain with any range of motion. Id. X-rays taken of Williams' hip revealed some bony irregularities suggesting a prior fracture; however, the area was not optimally evaluated. [Tr. 352] The images also suggested findings of mild to moderate degenerative arthroplasty involving the bilateral hip joints. Id. A MRI taken of the hip area showed normal examination bilaterally. [Tr. 354]

         Sexton treated Williams again in July and December 2015. [Tr. 364, 356] Once again, Sexton noted that Williams was slow to change positions, but presented with a steady gait. [Tr. 369, 361] Again, she reported that Williams complained of generalized arthritis pain and multiple joint pain with increased pain and decreased strength in her hands, but no nodes were noted and her strength was documented as 4/5 bilaterally. [Tr. 369, 362] Williams also presented with bilateral hip pain with any range of motion. [Tr. 369, 362]

         Williams was treated by Scott Lewis, D.O., of Lake Cumberland Rheumatology throughout 2015 and 2016. The severity of the problem was documented as mild during Williams' office visit in May 2015. [Tr. 389] Activity of the 2nd and 4th metacarpal was noted as tender and swollen bilaterally, muscle strength was 5/5 and Williams had bilateral knee crepitus. [Tr. 390] However, laboratory reports were negative for rheumatoid arthritis. [Tr. 391] On examination in July 2015, Williams presented with degenerative changes of the DIPs and PIPs in her hands bilaterally, in addition to squaring of the 1st CMC bilaterally. [Tr. 387] She was also observed to have right knee bony proliferation and left knee crepitus. Id. The severity of the problem was listed as moderate. [Tr. 386]

         The severity of the problem was again documented as mild during her visit to Lewis in October 2015. [Tr. 382] Lewis indicated the same findings regarding the degenerative changes in Williams' hands and the examination findings of her knees. [Tr. 384] A lumbar spine x-ray showed L2-3 osteophytes, L4-5 osteophytes and mild scoliosis. [Tr. 382] Lewis diagnosed Williams with low back pain due to degenerative disc disease. [Tr. 385]

         Williams was examined again in January 2016, at which point the severity of the problem was again listed as mild. [Tr. 379] Williams noted increased hip pain during this visit, but no other significant changes. Id. Lewis reported the same clinical findings of Williams' hands and knees as the two previous visits. [Tr. 380]

         William received physical therapy at Southfork Physical Therapy during November 2015. [Tr. 392-424] At the time of her discharge, Williams reported that her lower back was doing much better, that she felt her back was “about 95% better” since starting physical therapy, and that she was ready to be discharged to a home exercise program. [Tr. 392] Her physical therapist noted that Williams no longer gives subjective reports of significant pain and her lumbar active range of motion had improved somewhat, but still remained deficient. [Tr. 393] All of Williams' short term goals were met, but she was still progressing in meeting her long term goals. [Tr. 394]

         ALJ Todd Spangler determined that Williams' was not disabled in December 2014, despite a finding of a severe impairment of osteoarthritis. [Tr. 59, 61] He determined that the impairment did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. [Tr. 62] Considering the evidence of record and Williams' testimony, the ALJ concluded that that she had the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except the claimant was unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and could frequently stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. [Tr. 24] [Tr. 63] The ALJ ultimately found that Williams was capable of performing her past relevant work as a transcriptionist, receptionist, and emergency room admission clerk, because that work did not require the performance of activities precluded by her RFC. [Tr. 64] Thus, he concluded that she had not been under a disability from April 13, 2012, through the date of the his decision. [Tr. 64]

         State agency physician Diosdado Irlandez, M.D., reviewed Williams' file in March 2015, and concluded that Williams' statements regarding the severity of her symptoms were only partially credible because they were not consistent with the objective evidence. [Tr. 90] Additionally because there were no apparent changes in Williams' medical impairments or functioning, he adopted the RFC finding of ALJ Spangler. [Tr. 91]

         Williams testified during the administrative hearing before ALJ Donald Rising that she has not been able to work due to pain in her hands, knees, and hip. [Tr. 41] She claimed that her pain medication has been effective, but her arthritic pain was getting worse and she was required to take more medication. [Tr. 43] According to Williams, her medical conditions were worse than they were a year and a half earlier. Specifically, ...


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