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Chapman v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

September 12, 2018

KENNY R. CHAPMAN, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Kenny R. Chapman brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB). The Court, having reviewed the record, will AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision as it is supported by substantial evidence.


         Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). “Substantial evidence” is defined as “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. Courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. Id. Rather, we are to affirm the Commissioner's decision, provided it is supported by substantial evidence, even if we might have decided the case differently. See Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999). The substantial evidence standard “allows considerable latitude to administrative decision makers” and “presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which the [decision makers] can go either way, without interference by the courts.” Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (citation and internal quotations omitted). “The substantial evidence standard is met if a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion.” Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (citation and internal quotations omitted).

         The ALJ, in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis. See Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). Step One considers whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; Step Two, whether any of the claimant's impairments are “severe”; Step Three, whether the impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step Four, whether the claimant can still perform his past relevant work; and Step Five, whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the Commissioner. Id.; see also Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).


         In August 2013, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits (DIB), alleging disability beginning in April 2013, due to a litany of physical and mental conditions (Administrative Record (Tr.) 123, 316, 390). His application was denied and he pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies (Tr. 1-7 (Appeals Council denial of review), 123-35 (administrative law judge (ALJ) decision), 167-96 (ALJ hearing), 233-36 (initial denial), 239-41 (reconsideration denial)). This case is ripe for review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         A. Medical Evidence, Work History, and Hearing Testimony

         In May 2013, just after his alleged onset of disability, Plaintiff followed up at Health Point to have earwax and skin lesions removed (Tr. 635). He had no other complaints (Tr. 634). There is no evidence that he received additional treatment at Health Point until March 2014 (Tr. 667). In the meantime, he was seen in the emergency department. In July 2013, he was “rambling about illogical stories” in the emergency room (Tr. 580). On admission, he was diagnosed with a mood disorder and assigned a global assessment of functioning (GAF) score of 30 (Tr. 581), indicating that his behavior was influenced by delusions or that he had a serious impairment in communication or judgment or an inability to functioning almost all areas. Am. Psychiatric Ass'n, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 34 (4th ed. text revision 2000). Rodney Vivian, M.D., noted that he was “avoidant, spen[t] most of his days in bed, refuse[d] to participate in any kind of problem solving or goal setting and is focused on getting his needs met by other people” (Tr. 583-84). When it became clear that his “family was not going to provide housing, [he] requested discharge” (Tr. 584). On discharge, he was diagnosed with a mood disorder and a personality disorder with dependent features and assigned a GAF of 60, indicating moderate symptoms or functional limitations (Tr. 584). See id.

         Throughout 2015 Plaintiff was seen occasionally for headaches and mood disorders (Tr. 780-84, 952-62). Plaintiff noted at one visit that his short-term goal was a “complete assessment to help with his disability claim.” (Tr. 826). Plaintiff's medical records reflect that he asked his therapist to “lie and say he is too ill to live on his own.” (Tr. 902). The same therapist diagnosed Plaintiff with “malingering.” (Tr. 904).

         Plaintiff (represented by an attorney at the time), testified at the July 2016 hearing that he stopped working in April 2013, but returned to work from January until November 2014 doing temporary tax work earning $12, 377.93 (Tr. 174, 363). He worked again in 2015 doing temporary tax work through October of that year, earning $11, 627.27 (Tr. 175-76, 185, 363). He also worked the month of January 2016, the month of April 2016, and a week in June 2016 (Tr. 177).

         Plaintiff testified that he had experienced daily migraine headaches since 1997 (Tr. 179). According to Plaintiff, for “[a] few years at least, ” his headaches had been so bad he could not tolerate them even with medication, but he would just force himself to go to work (Tr. 179-80). He also testified that he had problems with anxiety since he was in college, which got worse in 2013 (Tr. 180). Nevertheless, he was able to force himself to continue to work (Tr. 180-81). According to Plaintiff, he has thoughts of suicide, but has never attempted to kill himself (Tr. 181). Plaintiff then told the ALJ that, even though he had worked for significant periods of time since he became disabled, he believed he could not work because of his fatigue (Tr. 183).

         Based on this evidence in the record and testimony at the hearing, The ALJ found that although Plaintiff could not perform his past work, he had no exertional impairments, but was limited to simple, low-stress work with limited social interaction and the ability to be off-task 10 percent of the time and absent one day per month (Tr. 128, 133-34).

         B. ALJ's Finding that Plaintiff Engaged in ...

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