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Fields v. Berryhill

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

May 3, 2018

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


          Danny C. Reeves, United States District Judge

         This matter is pending for review of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Shawn Joseph Fields (“Fields” or the “Claimant”) and Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”). [Record Nos. 13, 15] Fields argues that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) assigned to his case erred in concluding that he was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act “Act”). Specifically, he asserts that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate his subjective complaints of pain and that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Fields asks this Court to direct the Commissioner to award him benefits or, alternatively, remand this matter for further consideration before a new ALJ. The Commissioner contends that the ALJ properly evaluated the evidence and that the ALJ's decision should be affirmed because it is supported by substantial evidence.

         The Commissioner's motion will be granted and Fields' motion will be denied for the reasons that follow.

         I. Procedural History

         Fields filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act on February 3, 2015.[1] [See Administrative Transcript, hereinafter “Tr., ” 156.] The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Fields then requested an administrative hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 82, 93, 101] He appeared before ALJ Donald Rising at a hearing in Middlesboro, Kentucky in December 2016. [Tr. 27-42] ALJ Rising denied benefits in a written decision on January 25, 2017, which the Appeals Council affirmed. [Tr. 8-21, 1-4]

         As a result of the foregoing, the Claimant has exhausted his administrative remedies and this matter is ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Background

         Fields was forty-six years old and lived with his wife at the time of his application for SSI. [Tr. 20, 31] He claimed that he became unable to work on January 15, 2012, because of problems with his knees, depression, and a limited education. [Tr. 212-13] Fields alleged that he quit school after the fourth grade is unable to read or write more than his name. [Tr. 31, 212]

         He worked as a stocker at a liquor store from 2008 through 2012. [Tr. 198] During that time Fields, loaded trucks and stocked items weighing up to 50 pounds. This required walking, standing, kneeling, crouching, crawling, reaching, and handling, grabbing, and grasping large objects. [Tr. 199] He reports that he can no longer work due to pain in his knees and ankles and that he mostly watches television. [Tr. 204-08, 230]

         Pam Sheffield, ARNP, treated Fields for left knee, ankle, and foot pain beginning in October 2014. [Tr. 321, 324] She ordered x-rays, prescribed prednisone, and referred Fields to Jamal Bazzi, M.D. Bazzi evaluated Fields on February 2, 2015. [Tr. 328] He noted that Fields had tenderness over the medial joint line of his left knee and on his left ankle. [Tr. 329] An MRI of Fields' left ankle revealed a small fluid collection posterior to the talus bone and intact ankle tendons and collateral ligaments. [Tr. 330] An x-ray of the left foot showed mild degenerative changes and large calcaneal spurs. [Tr. 449] X-rays of Fields's knees, however, were normal. [Tr. 415-16] Bazzi administered a steroid injection to the left knee and prescribed physical therapy and Voltaren gel for the ankle. [Tr. 335] Fields completed six physical therapy visits, but was discharged because he had failed to benefit from this treatment. [Tr. 366]

         Sheffield also treated Fields for low back pain in July 2015. [Tr. 435] She prescribed anti-inflammatory medications and ordered an MRI. [Tr. 436, 441] Radiologist Gregory Tiu, M.D., reported that the MRI showed signs of degenerative disc disease at ¶ 5-S1, with mild diffuse annular bulging. [Tr. 446] He indicated that there were no signs of spinal stenosis or a herniated nucleus pulposis. Id. Sheffield referred Fields to neurosurgeon James Bean, M.D., who diagnosed Fields with a “far lateral disc herniation, L3-L4, left” based on the same MRI. [Tr. 478] Bean remarked that Fields would “try to endure [it] conservatively since he has a fear of surgery.” [Tr. 478]

         State agency consultant Kathleen Monderewicz, M.D., examined Fields on March 25, 2015. [Tr. 354] At the time of this examination, Fields complained of chronic knee pain, as well as left ankle and foot pain, but reported no history of having been injured. Fields was five feet, nine inches tall and weighed 295 pounds. [Tr. 352] Monderewicz reported that Fields had an antalgic gait, but did not use an assistive device. Both of Fields' knees were tender at the joint lines and exhibited crepitus and patellar clicking, but the lateral and cruciate ligaments were all intact and stable. [Tr. 353-54] Fields also complained of tenderness around his left ankle joint, as well, but no ligamentous laxity was detected. [Tr. 354]

         Fields was able to balance on his right lower extremity, but could not stand on the left leg alone. He also could not perform heel or toe-walking on his left leg and could not squat fully due to pain. [Tr. 355] His left lower extremity strength was inhibited by pain, but there was no evidence of muscle atrophy. Monderewicz concluded that prolonged sitting, standing, walking, squatting, kneeling, and crawling were limited due to Fields' chronic left knee and ankle pain and decreased range of motion. She further determined that bending and stooping were limited due to back pain, as were heavy lifting and carrying. Monderewicz reported that Fields had some limitations in the ability to raise his arms overhead and that he should avoid climbing and unprotected heights because of his balance limitations. [Tr. 356] Finally, Monderewicz concluded that Fields had mild difficulty with fine manipulation due to a slight action tremor in both hands.

         State agency consultant Michele Amburgey, M.A., examined Fields on April 14, 2015. [Tr. 360] Fields drove himself to the examination. He advised Amburgey that he was depressed “on occasion.” [Tr. 361] Amburgey administered the WAIS-IV, an instrument that assesses intelligence. Fields scored “extremely low” in the areas of verbal comprehension, working memory, and processing speed. [Tr. 361-62] He scored “borderline” in the area of perceptual reasoning. [Tr. ...

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