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Lawson v. Berryhill

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

November 29, 2018

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



         This matter is pending for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff John Lawson and Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (“the Commissioner”). [Record Nos. 1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1, 1');">1');">1');">16] For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the relief sought by Lawson.


         Lawson filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) on January 1');">1');">1');">15, 201');">1');">1');">16. [Administrative Transcript, “Tr.” 1');">1');">1');">171');">1');">1');">1] He claimed a disability onset date of January 1');">1');">1');">1, 201');">1');">1');">16. [Tr. 43] The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied his application initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 84, 97] Lawson then requested an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). [Tr. 1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">10] ALJ Tommye Mangus issued a written opinion following the hearing, finding that Lawson was not disabled. [Tr. 40-57] The SSA's Appeals Council subsequently denied Lawson's request for review. [Tr. 1');">1');">1');">1-7] Thus, Lawson has exhausted his administrative remedies and this matter is ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1');">1');">1');">1383(c)(3).


         Lawson was 44 years-old at the time of the ALJ's decision. [Tr. 51');">1');">1');">1] He has a high school education and worked as a security guard from 2005 to 201');">1');">1');">15. [Tr. 51');">1');">1');">1, 63] Lawson is able to drive, do yard work, cook for himself, and do his own laundry. [Tr. 63, 67, 69]

         Lawson was admitted to Harlan ARH Hospital with fluid retention, hypertension, and respiratory distress in November 201');">1');">1');">15 (prior to his onset date). [Tr. 287] Abdul Kader Dahhan, M.D., concluded that Lawson suffered from obesity, pulmonary hypertension, essential hypertension, sleep apnea, and cor pulmonale (i.e., pulmonary heart disease). [Tr. 288]

         Lawson was examined by Dr. Dahhan in January 201');">1');">1');">16 due to leg pain, edema, and high blood pressure. [Tr. 382] Dahhan noted that Lawson had pedal edema in both legs. [Tr. 383] Lawson was again examined by Dahhan on March 30, 201');">1');">1');">16, for knee pain. [Tr. 41');">1');">1');">14] Dahhan noted tenderness to palpation in Lawson's knees and moderate degenerative changes with osteophyte formation and spurs in his right knee. [Tr. 41');">1');">1');">16, 504] Lawson returned to Dahhan in August 201');">1');">1');">16 complaining of shortness of breath and chest pain. [Tr. 500] A chest x-ray revealed Lawson had marked cardiac enlargement with pulmonary congestion, but the results of an echocardiogram appeared normal. [Tr. 496-99]

         Dr. Dahhan completed a medical assessment form regarding Lawson's ability to do work-related activities. [Tr. 427] Dahhan, however, did not include medical findings supporting his assessment for five of the seven questions included in the form. [Tr. 427-429] Instead, he indicated that lifting, carrying, standing, walking, and sitting were affected by his impairments. [Tr. 427] And he explained that Lawson could occasionally lift 20 pounds and frequently lift 1');">1');">1');">10 pounds. [Tr. 427] Dr. Dahhan also concluded that Lawson could stand or walk for two hours during an 8-hour workday. [Tr. 427] Dahhan further noted that Lawson could never climb, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel or crawl. [Tr. 428] He also checked that pushing/pulling, seeing, hearing, and speaking were affected by his impairments. [Tr. 428] Finally, Dahhan indicated that Lawson had environmental restrictions caused by his impairments including: temperature extremes, chemicals, moving machinery, dust, and fumes. [Tr. 428]

         Lawson was examined at the Cloverfork Clinic for a skin infection and complaints of gout in December 201');">1');">1');">16. [Tr. 549, 562] During this medical evaluation, Rachel R. Eubank, M.D., stressed the importance of weight loss and proper diet in treating these conditions. [Tr. 560] Lawson also sought poison ivy medication in May 201');">1');">1');">17 so that he could cut weeds in his yard. [Tr. 931');">1');">1');">1]

         Dr. Robert Spangler conducted a psychological evaluation of Lawson on April 3, 201');">1');">1');">17. [Tr. 631');">1');">1');">1] Spangler determined that Lawson had an unspecified depressive disorder, speech sound disorder, mild intellectual disability, functional illiteracy, and marginal math skills. [Tr. 636] He noted that Lawson was “fair in terms of depression; IQ, Achievement Levels, and Speech Sound Disorder are static.” [Tr. 636] Dr. Spangler also found that Lawson had moderate limitations to follow work rules (simple, oral), deal with public, use judgment in public, interact with supervisors, deal with work stressors, function independently, maintain personal appearance, behave in an emotionally stable manner, relate predictability in social situations, and demonstrate reliability. [Tr. 638] Next, Spangler indicated that Lawson had mild limitations to relate to co-workers and no limitations in maintaining attention and concentration. [Tr. 638] He noted that Lawson “appear[ed] to be functioning in the mild range of intellectual disability to low borderline intelligence and is emotionally stable on current prescriptions.” [Tr. 634] Finally, Spangler concluded that Lawson does not have the judgment necessary to handle his own financial affairs if awarded benefits. [Tr. 634]

         Lawson was treated at Hazard Appalachian Regional Healthcare Hospital on April 24, 201');">1');">1');">17, where he presented with chronic stable angina. [Tr. 642] A cardiac catherization was performed and Dr. Padubidri Chandrashekar diagnosed non-critical coronary artery disease. [Tr. 645-47] Dr. Chandrashekar recommended weight reduction. [Tr. 647] Thereafter, Lawson visited the Mountain Heart Center in May 201');">1');">1');">17, where Dr. Chandrashekar assessed dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue, palpations, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, obesity, and chest pain. [Tr. 876-77]

         Dr. Howard Bronstein reviewed Lawson's file in May 201');">1');">1');">16 at the reconsideration level. [Tr. 90-96] Dr. Bronstein found that Lawson was able to occasionally lift 20 pounds, frequently lift 1');">1');">1');">10 pounds, stand and/or walk for a total of 3 hours, and sit for about 6 hours of an 8-hour work day. [Tr. 92-93] Bronstein noted that Lawson could occasionally climb ramps, stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [Tr. 93] Additionally, he opined that Lawson could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but could frequently balance. [Tr. 93] He concluded that Lawson was not disabled. [Tr. 95]

         James Taylor, SDM, reviewed Lawson's file in January 201');">1');">1');">16. [Tr. 79] He noted that Lawson denied depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric problems when he met with Dr. Dahhan. [Tr. 79] He further noted that Lawson indicated that his depression was likely due to pain. [Tr. 79] Finally, he concluded that Lawson had no prior mental health treatment. [Tr. 79] Alex Guerrero, M.D., affirmed this initial assessment and concluded that Lawson did not have a discrete mental condition. [Tr. 91');">1');">1');">1]

         Lawson testified during the administrative hearing that his worst problem was congestive heart failure. [Tr. 65] He explained that he is cold constantly, his knees are swollen, he is short-winded, and he uses oxygen at night. [Tr. 65] He also claimed to be suffering from diabetes, gout, arthritis, and cirrhosis. [Tr. 68-69, 71');">1');">1');">1] Lawson testified his sister does his grocery shopping and helps with his bills and that his step-daughter performs chores around the house. [Tr. 66-68] And although Lawson claims he cannot read or write, he testified he does his own laundry and cooks for himself. [Tr. 67] He estimated that he can only sit for about an hour, stand for about 30 minutes, and can only walk 25 to 50 feet without having to stop. [Tr. 71');">1');">1');">1-72] Following Lawson's testimony, Vocational Expert (“VE”) Jane Hall testified that Lawson could not return to his past relevant work. [Tr. 72] She explained, however, that there are jobs in the national economy that a person with Lawson's limitations can perform. [Tr. 73-74]

         ALJ Mangus issued a written decision on December 1');">1');">1');">14, 201');">1');">1');">17, concluding that Lawson was not disabled. [Tr. 52] After reviewing the record and considering the testimony presented, the ALJ determined that Lawson had the following severe impairments: joint dysfunction, cor pulmonale, obesity, borderline intellectual functioning, coronary artery disease, and depression. [Tr. 45] ALJ Mangus found that Lawson's gout and psoriasis were non-severe. [Tr. 45] The ALJ further concluded that Lawson did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1');">1');">1');">1. [Tr. 45]

         The ALJ explained that Lawson had the residual function capacity (“RFC”) to perform “light work” subject to the following limitations:

He is limited to work that does not require standing or walking in excess of 2 hours during an 8-hour day. He is unable to perform any climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds, or more than occasional climbing of ramps and stairs. He can perform no more than occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling, and no more than frequent balancing. He must avoid all exposure to workplace hazards, such as dangerous, moving machinery and unprotected heights and no concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants, such as dust, fumes, smoke, chemicals, and noxious gases. Mentally, he can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions and tasks and adapt to occasional, gradually introduced changes.

[Tr. 47] ALJ Mangus concluded that Lawson could not perform his past relevant work as a security guard. [Tr. 51');">1');">1');">1] However, she determined that there were jobs in the national economy that Lawson could perform. [Tr. 52] As a result, the ALJ found that Lawson was not under disability from January 1');">1'); ...

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