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Burdine v. Berryhill

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

November 2, 2018

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


          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Donavon Burdine has moved for judgment on the pleadings [Record No. 15] and Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, has filed a motion for summary judgment [Record No. 20]. Burdine contends that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) assigned to his case erred in denying his application for benefits. He argues more specifically that the ALJ failed to afford proper weight to the opinion of his treating physician and to the disabling portions of the consultative examiner's opinion. [Record No. 15, 1] Burdine requests that the Court grant his motion for judgment on the pleadings or, alternatively, that the matter be remanded for a new administrative hearing. [Id. at 12.] The Commissioner contends that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. [Record No. 20] For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the relief sought by Burdine.


         Burdine filed an application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) on October 23, 2015, and for Title XVI Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on October 19, 2015. [Administrative Transcript, “Tr.” 181-185, 194-203] He originally claimed a disability onset date of September 15, 2015. [Tr. 181] The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied his application initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 72, 73] Burdine then requested a hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 100]

         ALJ Dennis Hansen issued a written opinion following the administrative hearing, finding that Burdine was not disabled. [Tr. 12-31] The Appeals Council subsequently denied Burdine's request for review. [Tr. 1] Accordingly, Burdine has exhausted his administrative remedies and this matter is ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).


         Burdine was 45 years-old at the time of ALJ Hansen's decision. [Tr. 35] He previously worked as a tractor-trailer driver, material handler, merchandise deliverer, warehouse manager, lumber deliverer, and sales attendant. [Tr. 53] Burdine did not complete high school but later obtained a General Equivalency Diploma. [Tr. 35]

         Medical records indicate that the plaintiff suffered from both physical and mental medical impairments. The physical conditions noted in Burdine's medical records include: narrowing disc spaces in the lumbar spine, tinnitus, hypertension, chest wall pain, mild heart plaque, a small partial rotator cuff tear, a small abdominal hernia, and a history of stroke. [See, e.g., 383-403, 414-21, 529-33, 550-53, 571-590.] However, Burdine's motion focuses more on his mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. [Record No. 15-1]

         Burdine saw Dr. Gregory Sherry on July 14, 2015. [Tr. 426-438] Burdine explained he sometimes became “nervous and tore up” about work at the lumber yard. [Tr. 426] Dr. Sherry noted that Burdine had trouble with organization. [Tr. 426] He indicated that Burdine's symptoms were likely anxiety-related and that he probably has true panic attacks. [Tr. 427]

         Burdine met with consultative examiner Dr. Greg Lynch on December 17, 2015. [Tr. 408-412] Burdine explained to Dr. Lynch that he quit his job at the lumber yard because it was too stressful. [Tr. 409] However, he also stated that he never attended counseling and had not been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons. [Tr. 409] He maintained close relationships with family and friends and he went shopping once a week. [Tr. 410] Lynch stated that Burdine's “posture seemed tense and his overall motor activity seemed restless.” [Tr. 410] He explained that Burdine seemed distractible and anxiety seemed to interfere with his concentration. [Tr. 410] Lynch noted inconsistencies in Burdine's insight about his psychological functioning. [Tr. 411]

         Dr. Lynch concluded that Burdine suffered from major depressive disorder and moderate anxiety disorder. [Tr. 411] He found that Burdine's “capacity to understand, remember and carry out instructions towards performance of simple repetitive tasks seem affected by the impairment with slight limitations noted.” [Tr. 412] Lynch further noted that Burdine had slight limitations to sustain attention and concentration towards performance of simple repetitive tasks. [Tr. 412] Lynch also found Burdine had moderate to marked limitations to tolerate stress and the pressure of day-to-day employment. [Tr. 412] Finally, Lynch concluded that Burdine had marked limitations in his ability to respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and work pressures in a work setting. [Tr. 412]

         Disability Determination Services (“DDS”) psychological consultant Dr. Jermaine Robertson reviewed Burdine's medical records in January 2016. [Tr. 61-68] He concluded that, based on the totality of the evidence, Burdine's medical impairment is considered more than non-severe. [Tr. 63] He found however that Burdine's “psychological limitations appear minimal and, when present, are secondary to physical impairment and pain.” [Tr. 63] Dr. Robertson explained that he gave great weight to the slight limitations that Lynch noted in his opinion. [Tr. 63] However, Robertson gave little weight to the moderate to marked limitations imposed by Dr. Lynch because Lynch relied too heavily on Burdine's self-reports and the limitations were not consistent with the medical evidence in the file. [Tr. 63] Robertson concluded that Burdine “can understand, retain and carry out simple instructions. [Burdine] can consistently and usefully perform routine tasks on a sustained basis, with normal supervision, and can cooperate effectively with public and co-workers in completely simple tasks and transactions. [He] can adjust to the mental demands of most new tasks.” [Tr. 68] Mary Thompson, Ph.D., reviewed Burdine's medical records in March 2016. [Tr. 80-88] She found that, even with the updated evidence received, the medical evidence still supports the prior decision of the Commissioner. [Tr. 82]

         DDS medical consultant Dr. Diosado Irlandez reviewed the patient's file on March 30, 2016. [Tr. 86] Irlandez found that Burdine was capable of doing medium exertion level work. [Tr. 89] He concluded that Burdine could occasionally lift 50 pounds, frequently lift 25 pounds, and sit or stand for about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. [Tr. 84] Irlandez also determined that he could frequently climb ramps, stairs, climb ladders, and bend at the waist. [Tr. 84] Additionally, he found that Burdine had no postural limitations for balancing, kneeling, crouching, or crawling. [Tr. 84-85]

         Dr. Robina Bokhari, a neurologist/psychiatrist at Mountainview Behavioral and Neuroscience Center, treated Burdine from February 2016 to March 2017. [Tr. 474] Bokhari filled out a mental health source check-box form on March 6, 2017. [Tr. 625-626] She noted Burdine had marked limitations for dealing with work stress and is limited in his ability to focus, organize, and complete tasks in a timely manner. [Tr. 625-26] She also checked boxes indicating that Burdine would likely be absent for three or more days a month, his symptoms were severe enough to constantly interfere with his ability to work cooperatively, and he had marked limitations for dealing with workplace stress. [Tr. 625-26] Burdine saw Dr. Bokhari in March 2017 and she noted that Burdine's anxiety improved since his last visit and his depression remained stable, but he continued to have anger issues. [Tr. 627]

         Burdine also received services from Catalyst Behavioral Health from March 2016 through March 2017. He was originally seen by Dr. Martha Purcell. [Tr. 464] Burdine indicated steady progress throughout his time with Purcell, improving depression symptoms, decreased conflict and anger issues, and positive relationships with family members. [Tr. 604-14] Burdine and Purcell also addressed some of Burdine's grief over the loss of his father. [Tr. 608] Burdine advised Purcell during their conversations that he would still be happy driving a semi-truck and ...

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