United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division
JACLYN B. SUTTON PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
N. Stivers, Judge
matter is before the Court upon Defendant's Objection to
the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (DN 21).
For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Objections
(DN 21) are OVERRULED, and the Magistrate
Judge's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and
Recommendation (“R. & R.”) (DN 19) is
filed a complaint seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's decision denying her claim for social
security benefits. (Compl., DN 1). The R. & R.
recommended that this Court remand Plaintiff's benefits
claim on the ground that the decision of the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) rejecting Plaintiff's claim
was not supported by substantial evidence. (R. & R. 8, DN
19). Defendant filed objections to the R. & R., and
Plaintiff responded to those objections. (Def.'s Obj. R.
&. R., DN 21 [hereinafter Def.'s Obj.]; Pl.'s
Resp. Def.'s Obj. R. &. R., DN 24 [hereinafter
Pl.'s Resp.]). The facts pertinent to Defendant's
objections are as follows:
2011, Plaintiff Jaclyn Sutton (“Sutton”) sought
treatment for a lower-back impairment that radiated pain into
her lower extremities. (Administrative R. at 346 [hereinafter
R.]). Dr. Quinn Regan (“Dr. Regan”) performed a
micro-discectomy to address a large herniation on the
left-side of Plaintiff's lower-back. (R. at 346-47).
Notwithstanding this procedure, Plaintiff's impairment
continued to cause her pain. (R. at 511).
months after her surgery, Dr. Regan signed a work release on
Plaintiff's behalf. (R. at 333). In the release, Dr.
Regan indicated that Plaintiff could work four-hour shifts
that allow for alternate sitting/standing and that she should
not work more than sixteen hours per week. (R. at 333). As a
result, Plaintiff returned to her job at Home Depot, where
she worked until she was terminated in November 2012. (R.
& R. 3).
two years later, Plaintiff discovered additional information
related to her back pain. Essentially, Plaintiff was
hospitalized for acute pyelonephritis (an inflamed kidney).
(R. at 469). To treat the inflammation, medical personnel
performed a CT-scan on Plaintiff's abdomen, and, in doing
so, observed: “Marked degenerative changes in the lower
lumbar spine with osteophyte complexes at ¶ 4-L5 and
L5-S1 that contribute to moderate to severe spinal canal
stenosis (abnormal narrowing of a tubular structure).”
(R. at 471-72). Medical personnel further noted that their
findings “may represent calcified disc
herniation.” (R. at 472).
Plaintiff's Application for Disability Benefits &
the ALJ's Decision
filed an application for disability insurance and
supplemental security income benefits on March 25, 2014,
alleging that an impairment in her lower-back rendered her
disabled. (R. at 27). In support of her claim, Plaintiff
submitted documentation evidencing her back surgery, as well
as the work release Dr. Regan signed on her behalf. (R. at
further substantiate her claim, Plaintiff presented reports
prepared by two other physicians: Dr. Michael Meade
(“Dr. Meade”) and Dr. Jack Reed (“Dr.
Reed”). (R. at 93-99, 511-16). Dr. Meade, one of the
SSA's one-time examining physicians, examined Plaintiff
and concluded that her residual functional capacity allowed
her to perform sedentary work. (R. at 511-16). Dr. Reed,
however, did not examine Plaintiff. As Magistrate
Judge King noted in the R. & R., it appears as though Dr.
Reed “signed off on (or reaffirmed verbatim) the prior
findings of the state-agency single decisionmaker (SDM)
Donald Bragg [(“Bragg”)], ” as Dr.
Reed's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) assessment form is identical to the
documentation that Bragg-a lay person-completed. (R. & R.
3). Like Dr. Meade, Dr. Reed found that Plaintiff should be
limited to sedentary work. (R. at 98). Notably, the record is
silent as to whether Drs. Meade or Reed analyzed
Plaintiff's CT-scan results in preparing their reports,
and whether Dr. Reed reviewed Dr. Meade's physical
examination findings before completing the form.
the fact that the three medical opinions suggested that
Plaintiff be confined to sedentary work, the ALJ issued a
decision denying Plaintiff's application and ruling that
her RFC allowed her to perform light work. (R. at 27-40). In
reaching this conclusion, the ALJ gave “little
weight” to Drs. Regan's and Meade's opinions.
(R. at 36-37). Dr. Regan's opinion, the ALJ noted, was
dated and “based on the [Plaintiff's] subjective
report” of her condition. (R. at 37). Dr. Meade's
opinion was discounted because “his examination
findings were normal and, thus, not supportive of his
opinion.” (R. at 36). The ALJ then gave “great
weight” to parts of Dr. Reed's assessment,
but discredited “the portion of [his] opinion that the
[Plaintiff] could stand and walk up to two hours in an
eight-hour period . . . .” (R. at 37). The ALJ
reasoned: “Despite the claimant's morbid obesity,
the documented findings and symptoms do not demonstrate that
the claimant had recurring abnormal gait, joint
instability swelling, crepitus, or limited range of motion to
support these restrictions.” (R at 37 (emphasis in
original)). In this way, the ALJ credited only one aspect of
the medical evidence: a portion of a non-examining
physician's RFC assessment form suggesting that Plaintiff
could occasionally and frequently lift and/or carry enough
weight to permit her to perform light rather than sedentary
Report & Recommendation
response to Plaintiff's claim for judicial review of the
ALJ's decision, Magistrate Judge King recommended that
this Court vacate the ALJ's decision insofar as it
concluded that Plaintiff could perform light work. (R. &
R. 7). To support this recommendation, Magistrate Judge King
noted that the ALJ essentially rejected all of the medical
evidence and “played doctor”-particularly in
light of the fact that no physician concluded that Plaintiff
could perform light work. (R. & R. 4-7). The R&R also
pointed out that the record suggested that “[n]o
qualified medical source [ever] evaluated Plaintiff's
complaints of low-back pain” in light of the results of
the CT-scan, which Magistrate Judge King found highly
problematic given that the CT-scan results could ...