United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. Reeves United States District Judge
matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for
summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Toshia Renee Fields and
Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration. [Record Nos. 11, 13] Fields
argues that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
assigned to her case erred in concluding that she was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
(“Act”). Specifically, she asserts that the ALJ
did not properly consider the opinion evidence and that the
ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence.
Fields asks the Court to direct the Commissioner to award her
benefits or, alternatively, remand this matter to the
Commissioner for further consideration. 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.
reviewed the record and the parties' arguments, the
Commissioner's motion will be granted and Fields'
motion will be denied for the reasons that follow.
filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Act on April 4,
2013. [See Administrative Transcript, hereinafter
“Tr., ” 280.] The application was denied
initially and on reconsideration. Fields then requested a
hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 169, 174, 182] She appeared
before ALJ Karen R. Jackson at an administrative hearing in
Frankfort, Kentucky in March 2015. [Tr. 54-84] ALJ Jackson
denied benefits in a written decision the following month.
[Tr. 144-56] However, the Appeals Council vacated the
ALJ's decision and remanded the matter for further
consideration. [Tr. 163-65] ALJ Jackson held an additional
hearing on October 26, 2016. [Tr. 29-53] She issued a written
decision in March 2017, once again denying benefits. [Tr.
8-22] This time, the Appeals Council affirmed the decision.
[Tr. 1-3] Accordingly, the claimant has exhausted her
administrative remedies and this matter is ripe for review
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
was forty-five-years-old at the time of her application for
benefits. [See Tr. 280.] She has a high school
education and has worked for approximately five years as a
school bus driver. [Tr. 306] She alleges that she became
unable to work in April 2012 because of severe complications
from neck surgery. [Tr. 280, 305]
her second hearing before the ALJ, Fields reported
significant pain in her neck, right shoulder, and right hip.
[Tr. 38] Fields stated that, after being on her feet for
about twenty minutes, her neck and upper back muscles became
very weak. [Tr. 39] She reported having attempted physical
therapy following her neck surgery in 2012, but it caused
increased swelling and pain.
primary care provider, Anthony Yonts, D.O., completed an
“arthritis questionnaire” in February 2015.
[See Tr. 464, 534, 536, 538-39, 593-98.] Yonts
reported that he saw Fields for chronic neck pain and
“DJD” every two months. [Tr. 593] He commented
that she experienced fatigue, palpitations, chronic neck
pain, and that Fields had severe limitations with respect to
activities of daily living. [Tr. 593] Yonts identified the
following “objective” signs in support of his
determination: reduced cervical range of motion; reduced grip
strength; sensory changes; reflex changes; impaired sleep;
abnormal posture; tenderness; crepitus; and muscle spasm.
[Tr. 594] He ultimately concluded that Fields was unable to
perform even “low stress jobs” because she could
not turn her neck fully and could not use her upper
extremities consistently. [Tr. 595]
assessed the following specific limitations: Fields was
unable to sit or stand for more than 30 minutes; she was
unable to sit, stand, or walk for more than two hours per
day; she could never lift more than ten pounds; could rarely
lift less than ten pounds; she could never twist, crouch, or
climb ladders, and could rarely stoop or climb stairs. [Tr.
also received primary care in 2014 and 2015 at Quantum
Healthcare. Practitioners Christopher Lewis and Ashley Taylor
treated Fields for neck, shoulder, and back pain. [Tr.
549-50, 655] Taylor observed in May 2015 that Fields was
unable to elevate her right shoulder above 90 degrees and
could not elevate her left shoulder above 100-110 degrees.
Yen, DPM, treated Fields for sesamoiditis and flexor
tendinitis of the right lower extremity in June 2012. [Tr.
406-07] An MRI report indicated that there was
“evidence of edema, ” but Yen characterized the
MRI as “completely normal.” [Tr. 406, 410]
Accordingly, Yen suspected a “radiculopathy
component” of the pain and advised Fields to
“take care of her back.” Id. A doppler
examination revealed no evidence of decreased blood flow in
Fields' lower extremity arterial structures. [Tr. 411]
underwent an MRI of the cervical spine in May 2012, which
revealed disc herniation at multiple levels. [Tr. 540-41] She
consulted with a surgeon, Thomas Menke, M.D., the following
month. [Tr. 536] Following an unsuccessful course of physical
therapy, Menke performed decompression and multilevel fusion
surgery. [Tr. 531] Fields continued to follow-up with Menke
after the surgery. Although she continued to have some degree
of discomfort, Fields experienced overall improvement,
particularly with respect to the right upper extremity
radiculopathy she had previously experienced. [Tr. 464-85,
524-32, 537, 557-59, 569-71, 589-92, 663-81]
performed in April 2013 revealed mild residual foraminal
stenosis and diffuse disc bulging, but no apparent nerve
impingement at any level. [Tr. 464, 515] An additional MRI
was performed in May 2015, which showed fusion of the C4, C5,
C6, and C7 vertebral bodies with an anterior plate and
screws. [Tr. 608] There was a small posterior disc osteophyte
complex between C4-C5, C5-C6, C6-C7, and C7-T1, which was
indenting on the thecal sac. Id. Menke noted that