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Richardson v. Berryhill

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

August 3, 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 Rickey Dean Richardson and Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. [Record Nos. 10, 12] Richardson contends that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in concluding that he was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Specifically, he asserts that the ALJ did not properly evaluate his subjective complaints of pain and that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner denies these claims and argues that the ALJ's decision should be affirmed.

         For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's motion will be granted and Richardson's motion will be denied.

         I. Procedural History

         Richardson filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) on March 17, 2014. [See Administrative Transcript, hereinafter “Tr., ” 169.] Richardson requested an administrative hearing before an ALJ after the application was denied initially and on reconsideration. [Tr. 114, 123, 130] He appeared before ALJ Davida Isaacs in Lexington, Kentucky in November 2016. [Tr. 64-82] Following the administrative hearing, ALJ Isaacs denied benefits in a written decision on February 23, 2017. [Tr. 40-57] The Appeals Council affirmed this decision in January 2018. [Tr. 1-4] The matter is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Background

         Richardson was fifty-one-years-old at the time of his application for benefits. [See Tr. 169.] He has an eighth-grade education and has worked for approximately 27 years driving a coal truck. [Tr. 69-70] In addition to driving coal trucks, Richardson reported that he helped service them, which required lifting 50-pound cans of oil and 250-pound tires. [Tr. 70] He advised the ALJ that his back had been hurting for six to eight years, and that the pain had gotten worse over time. Id. He stated that he had constant pain from his waist to his shoulder blades, as well as numbness in his legs. [Tr. 71]

         Richardson stopped working on January 27, 2014, because he was laid off. [Tr. 189-90] However, he stated that the following conditions were severe enough, as of that date, to prevent him from working: “back injury; nerve problems; knee problems; very hard of hearing; [and] slow learner.” [Tr. 189-90]

         Ricky Collins, M.D., was Richardson's primary care provider. Richardson testified that Collins had treated him for 20 years, but the record only contains notes dating back to 2009. [See Tr. 561-633, 660-74, 677.] Collins prescribed Richardson medications for problems including back pain and hypertension. See Id. An x-ray performed in March 2014 revealed moderate degenerative changes in the Claimant's cervical spine. [Tr. 537] Richardson underwent an MRI a few months later, which revealed moderate disc herniation at ¶ 2-C3, a mild annular bulge at ¶ 3-C4, and small central herniation at ¶ 4-C5, C5-C6, and C6-C7. [Tr. 533] The report also noted that Richardson had severe degenerative joint disease at ¶ 6-C7. Id. A hip x-ray performed in March 2014 was normal, and a shoulder study revealed mild osteoarthritis. [Tr. 538, 539]

         Richardson was involved in an ATV accident in June 2014 and underwent imagining to rule out fractures. [Tr. 693] A CT scan revealed a renal mass, which was determined to be cancerous. [Tr. 701, 426-33] Richardson's right kidney was subsequently removed, and he had no recurrence of cancer. [Tr. 530]

         Collins submitted a medical source statement in March 2015. He reported that Richardson's ability to perform work-related activities was significantly impaired due to severe degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. [Tr. 541-43] Specifically, he opined that Richardson could not stand or sit for longer than five or ten minutes without interruption. [Tr. 541-42] He also reported that Richardson could never climb, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, or be exposed to various environmental hazards. [Tr. 542] It is unclear whether Collins relied on diagnostic or other objective evidence, but a CT scan of the lumbar spine in June 2014 revealed that Richardson had “multilevel spondylosis of the lumbar spine.” [Tr. 735]

         State consultant Dustin Johnson, M.D., examined Richardson in July 2014. [Tr. 421] Richardson exhibited stooped posture and labored gait at that time, but he did not use an assistive device. [Tr. 422] He had no difficulty getting on or off of the examination table and answered all questions appropriately. Id. His strength was five-out-of-five throughout his upper and lower extremities and his sensation was normal. [Tr. 422-23] Richardson had “some difficulty” squatting in addition to heel-to-toe and tandem walking. [Tr. 423] His ability to laterally flex his neck was limited to 30 degrees bilaterally and his lumbar flexion was limited to 70 degrees. Id.

         Johnson concluded that Richardson had the ability to perform activities involving sitting, standing, moving about, handling objects, hearing, and speaking. Johnson further noted that Richardson had normal upper extremity strength, including normal manipulation and grip strength, but felt that he might have some difficulty performing activities involving lifting or carrying. [Tr. 423]

         Robert Hoskins, M.D., examined Richardson at his attorney's request in August 2014. [Tr. 502] Hoskins observed that Richardson bore weight through his upper extremities while sitting and bore decreased weight through his left leg while standing. [Tr. 503] His posture was “somewhat stooped forward” and he ambulated slowly, but there were no “major deviations” from normal. [Tr. 503-04] His ...

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