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Hatfield v. Berryhill

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

July 11, 2018

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


          Danny C. Reeves, United States District Judge.

         This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Jeffery Allan Hatfield (“Hatfield” or “claimant”) and Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”). [Record Nos. 1');">11');">1, 1');">13] Hatfield argues that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) assigned to his case erred by denying his claims for disability income benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental social security income (“SSI”). More specifically, he asserts that the ALJ did not evaluate his subjective complaints properly and that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Hatfield asks the Court to direct the Commissioner to award him benefits or, alternatively, to 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.

         The Commissioner's motion will be granted and the relief requested by Hatfield will be denied for the reasons that follow.


         Hatfield filed concurrent applications in March 201');">15 for a period of disability and DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and SSI under Title XVI of the Act. [Administrative Transcript, “Tr., ” 325, 334] He alleges a disability beginning July 1');">1, 201');">14. Id. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied his applications initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 1');">182, 1');">196, 207, 221');">1] Hatfield then pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies. His case is now ripe for this Court's review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1');">1383(c)(3).

         Hatfield was 46-years-old at the time of the ALJ's decision. [Tr. 1');">108] He has a high school education and previously worked in apartment maintenance. [Tr. 1');">109] Hatfield's job duties included painting, roofing, mowing lawns, and air conditioning work. Id. He reported in his application for benefits that he is unable to work due to major depression anxiety disorder, right knee pain, and testicular hernia problems. [Tr. 1');">183] Hatfield claims that he also suffers from high blood pressure and lower back problems. [Tr. 1');">11');">11');">1-1');">120]

         The Claimant's pertinent medical history is summarized as follows:

Hatfield was admitted to Harlan Appalachian Regional Healthcare (“ARH”) in October 201');">14, with complaints of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thinking. [Tr. 508] He was discharged several days later with a diagnosis of adjustment disorder with mixed features of anxiety and depression. Id. Hatfield was seen by Dr. Raza a week after his discharge and was prescribed Celexa and Atarax with instructions to follow up in one month. [Tr. 1');">178-1');">180]

         Hatfield once again was admitted into the Psychiatric Unit at ARH in March 201');">15, based upon claims of anxiety and depression. [Tr. 559] A detox was completed and his medication adjusted, resulting in his depression and anxiety resolving. Id. He was discharged several days later with a diagnosis of substance-induced mood disorder and opioid dependency, with a recommendation to follow-up with a residential drug rehab program. Id. Hatfield was seen regularly by Dr. Raza throughout 201');">16 for issues involving anxiety and depression. Raza instructed Hatfield to take his medication regularly. [See Tr. 1');">161');">1, 1');">163, 1');">165, 1');">167.]

         Hatfield was treated for high blood pressure, back and testicular pain by APRN Lisa Bennett during the relevant period. In July 201');">14, Bennett diagnosed him with epididymitides after he presented with testicular pain he allegedly experienced occasionally for years. [Tr. 488-89] Dr. Kilstein saw Hatfield for severe testicular pain in June 201');">15 and recommended hydrocelectomy. [Tr. 633] He presented to Bennett with high blood pressure prior to being cleared for surgery and started on Lisinopril. [Tr. 628-29] Hydrocelectomy surgery with Dr. Kilstein was scheduled for July 8, 201');">15, but did not occur due to confusion over the location of the alleged pain. [Tr. 635] A November 201');">15 x-ray revealed a normal lumbar spine. [Tr. 659]

         Hatfield went to the Tri City Medical Center in February 201');">16, requesting medication for chronic pain in his lower back and testicles. [Tr. 736] He was diagnosed with low back pain, but a subsequent MRI was normal. [Tr. 737, 71');">16, 734] Hatfield was advised at the time that APRN Pam Sheffield would no longer prescribe pain medications for him. [Tr. 737] Thereafter, Hatfield began regular treatment with Dr. Sai P. Gutti, at the Pain Management Center. He underwent a right ilioinguinal nerve block on two occasions in 201');">16 which, according to Hatfield, reduced his level of pain. [See Tr. 81');">13, 81');">14, 81');">18, 81');">19.]

         Bennett saw Hatfield in May 201');">16 for complaints of left knee pain. [Tr. 799] An MRI revealed a complex tear involving the posterior horn of the lateral meniscus. [Tr. 783] Hatfield was evaluated by Bennett again in November 201');">16 for complaints of dizziness. [Tr. 1');">150] She diagnosed him with otitis and refilled his prescription for blood pressure medication. [Tr. 1');">151');">1] Hatfield asked Bennett to provide a medical statement for his disability application, but she recommended that he undergo a functional capacity examination (“FCE”) instead. Id. Physical therapist Shawn Stepp reported being unable to complete the FCE in December 201');">16 due to Hatfield's elevated blood pressure. [Tr. 824]

         State agency psychologist Ed Ross, Ph.D., reviewed Hatfield's file in June 201');">15 and concluded that Hatfield was not significantly limited in his ability to understand and carry out simple and detailed instructions. [Tr. 1');">190] Specifically, Ross found that Hatfield could understand and recall simple and detailed work procedures, complete routine mental aspects and make associated work-related decisions, without special supervision, and tolerate coworkers and accept supervision in a generally object focused context with infrequent and casual contacts as well as with only occasional contact with the general public. [Tr. 1');">193] State agency psychologist Mary K. Thompson, Ph.D., reached similar conclusions in September 201');">15. [Tr. 21');">16-21');">18]

         Hatfield testified during the administrative hearing before the ALJ that he has not been able to work due to his anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, and lower back and testicular problems. [Tr. 1');">11');">11');">1] He claimed that he uses his pain medication and a heating pad to relieve his pain. [Tr. 1');">11');">16] He testified that he walks around the house a little bit, but only 25 yards at most. Id. Hatfield also testified that he checks his blood pressure regularly and it is normally high, even while ...

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