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Jenkins v. Berryhill

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

February 4, 2019

TEDDY ALLEN JENKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge

         Teddy Jenkins (“Jenkins” or the “Claimant”) appeals the Social Security Commissioner's denial of his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Jenkins has filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) assigned to his case made reversible legal errors and that her decision is not supported by substantial evidence. [Record No. 7] The Commissioner has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, arguing that the ALJ's decision is proper. [Record No. 9] Because the ALJ applied the appropriate legal standards and rendered a decision supported by substantial evidence, Jenkins' motion will be denied and the Commissioner's will be granted.

         I. Procedural History

         Jenkins filed an application for DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) on October 15, 2013, alleging that he had become disabled on September 27, 2010. [Administrative Transcript, hereafter “Tr.” 140-153] ALJ William Wallis determined that Jenkins had the severe impairments of disorder of the back and bronchitis, but that the Claimant had the functional capacity to perform light work. Id. Specifically, he determined that Jenkins could push, pull, lift, and carry 20 pounds occasionally, and 10 pounds frequently. [Tr. 147] Jenkins could sit and stand and/or walk six hours in an eight-hour workday and could frequently stoop, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. He could only occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds and was required to avoid exposure to dust, fumes, gases, odors, poor ventilation, and vibration. Id. It appears that Jenkins did not appeal the ALJ's determination and it became the final decision of the Social Security Administration.

         Jenkins filed a subsequent application for DIB on May 18, 2015, again alleging an onset date of September 27, 2010. [Tr. 266] His date last insured was December 31, 2015. [Tr. 16] After this application was denied initially and on reconsideration, Jenkins requested an administrative hearing before an ALJ. [Tr. 194, 203, 210] ALJ Maria Hodges held a video hearing on December 15, 2017. She denied benefits in a written decision on March 27, 2018. [Tr. 12-26] The Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision in June 2018. [Tr. 1-3] Accordingly, the Claimant has exhausted his administrative remedies and this matter is ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Background

         Jenkins was forty-four-years-old at the time of his application for benefits. He has an eleventh grade education and previously worked as a welder and millwright. [Tr. 117-19] Jenkins held a driver's license and was able to read, write, and perform simple math. He claims that he became disabled due to injuries sustained in an automobile accident occurring on September 27, 2010. Jenkins claimed that he was unable to work due to low back pain, pain and paresthesia of the hand and arms, sinus/allergy problems, anxiety, and ringing in his ears. [Tr. 296]

         Jenkins described his back pain as constant, sharp, and running into his left lower extremity, although surgery has not been recommended. [Tr. 321] He had surgery for bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and left cubital tunnel syndrome in 2015, but reports the surgeries did not help. [Tr ] Jenkins advised that he could lift approximately 10 pounds and could walk about 300 feet before needing to rest for fifteen minutes to an hour. [Tr. 332] He described an average day as using a heating pad, watching television, going to the mailbox, talking on the telephone or visiting a friend, and using the computer. [Tr. 327] He reported having been prescribed hearing aids, but stated that he cannot afford them. [Tr. 134]

         Albaree Health Services provided Jenkins' primary care. Ayman Albaree, M.D. and Kelly Combs, PA-C provided regular allergy shots, and treated Jenkins for low back pain following his car accident in 2010. Practitioners at Albaree Health Services referred Jenkins to physical therapy and prescribed anti-inflammatory and pain medications. [Tr. 480-550] Jenkins attended several physical therapy treatments, but reported little to no improvement. [Tr. 624-38; 727-38; 743-51]

         Matthew Nicholls, M.D., performed bilateral carpal tunnel releases and a left cubital tunnel release in late 2015. [Tr. 705-13] Nicholls initially noted that Jenkins had no complications and was progressing as expected after his surgeries. However, Nicholls ordered a nerve conduction test when Jenkins still complained of upper extremity pain nine months later. The study showed mild carpal tunnel syndrome, no radiculopathy, and improvement from before the surgeries. [Tr. 771] Nicholls suggested that Jenkins' residual pain could be a result of “mild hand arthritis.” [Tr. 773]

         Agency consultant Kip Beard, M.D., examined Jenkins in September 2015. [Tr. 388] Jenkins exhibited a normal gait and was able to get on and off the examination table without obvious difficulty. Jenkins' cervical extension was limited to 60 degrees, but the remainder of his range of motion was normal. [Tr. 391] Beard noted that Jenkins could bend forward and to each side, and could stand on one leg without difficulty. The straight leg test while sitting was positive at 90 degrees, with some mild posterior left leg discomfort. [Tr. 392] There was no evidence of weakness, but Jenkins had decreased sensation in his left foot consistent with the L-5 distribution. Jenkins was able to squat halfway and walk on his heels and toes with some discomfort.

         Beard diagnosed Jenkins with chronic lumbosacral strain with possible L-5 radiculopathy. He opined that Jenkins would have “limitations such as prolonged sitting, standing, bending, climbing, lifting and carrying, and prolonged or repetitious handling of objects, gripping, and grasping.” [Tr. 393]

         Diosdado Irlandez, M.D., reviewed Jenkins' file on October 22, 2015. [Tr. 171-74] Irlandez reviewed all of the evidence to that point, including Dr. Beard's assessment. Irlandez concluded that Beard's opinion was not fully consistent with the evidence and was an overestimate of Jenkins' ability to function. [Tr. 171] Irlandez assigned the following limitations: Jenkins could occasionally lift and/or carry 20 pounds and could frequently lift and/or carry 10 pounds. [Tr. 172] He opined that Jenkins could sit and stand and/or walk about six hours in a normal eight-hour workday. He also found that Jenkins could frequently climb and kneel, but could only occasionally stoop, crouch, or crawl. Irlandez noted that Jenkins had manipulative limitations in his left hand and that he could only frequently push and pull. He indicated that Jenkins should avoid concentrated exposure to vibration and hazards such as machinery and heights. [Tr. 173]

         Alex Guerrero, M.D., reviewed Jenkins' file on January 5, 2016, and echoed Irlandez's findings. However, Guerrero limited Jenkins to frequent gross and fine manipulations, in light of deficits that ...


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