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Ford v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

March 5, 2019

DOUG RAY FORD, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Doug Ray Ford seeks judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied Hardin's claims for supplemental security income benefits and disability insurance benefits. Mr. Ford brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), alleging various errors on the part of the ALJ considering the matter. The Court, having reviewed the record and for the reasons set forth herein, will DENY Mr. Ford's motion for summary judgment but will GRANT judgment in favor of the Commissioner.



         Plaintiff Doug Ray Ford filed an application for disability insurance benefits on November 20, 2014 alleging disability beginning November 6, 2014 due to diabetes. [Tr. 19.] Mr. Ford's motion for summary judgment explains that he suffers from “acute diabetic emergencies that result in his passing out suddenly, ” despite being “generally compliant with his diabetic regimen.” [R. 13-2 at 3.] These episodes occur approximately twice a week. Id. Additionally, Mr. Ford experiences “pain, fatigue, tingling, and numbness which interfere[s] with his concentration.” Id. Mr. Ford's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 19, 78-81, 179.] Mr. Ford requested a hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Bonnie Kittinger on October 14, 2016. [Tr. 34.] Following the hearing, ALJ Bonnie Kittinger issued a final decision denying both of Hardin's claims for benefits. [Tr. 15-27.]

         To evaluate a claim for disability insurance benefit claims, an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, if a claimant is performing a substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, if a claimant does not have any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limit his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, he does not have a severe impairment and is not “disabled” as defined by the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Third, if a claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, he is “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Before moving on to the fourth step, the ALJ must use all of the relevant evidence in the record to determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), which assesses an individual's ability to perform certain physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite any impairment experienced by the individual. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545.

         Fourth, the ALJ must determine whether the clamant has the RFC to perform the requirements of his past relevant work, and if a claimant's impairments do not prevent him from doing past relevant work, he is not “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). Fifth, if a claimant's impairments (considering his RFC, age, education, and past work) prevent him from doing other work that exists in the national economy, then he is “disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

         Through step four of the analysis, “the claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by her impairments and the fact that she is precluded from performing her past relevant work.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to identify a significant number of jobs that accommodate the claimant's profile, but the claimant retains the ultimate burden of proving his lack of residual functional capacity. Id.; Jordon v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 548 F.3d 417, 423 (6th Cir. 2008).

         ALJ Kittinger's written decision proceeds sequentially through the five steps. [Tr. 22.] As an initial matter, the ALJ found that Mr. Ford met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018. Id. At the first step, ALJ Kittinger found that Mr. Ford had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 6, 2014, the alleged onset date. Id. Although Mr. Ford did “small jobs for friends” which reportedly consisted of five, eight-hour work days, the work was not documented, and the ALJ found that it did not rise to the level of substantial gainful activity.

         Next, at the second step, the ALJ found that Mr. Ford's diabetes mellitus with hypoglycemic unawareness amounted to a severe impairment. Id.; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). ALJ considered Mr. Ford's diagnoses of hypertension, hyperthyroidism, hyperlipidemia, and cataracts, but found that those ailments did not “impose any significant work-related limitations of function, ” and could not be considered “severe.” [Tr. 22.] ALJ Kittinger also considered Mr. Ford's depression by evaluating the four broad functional areas set out in the disability regulations. She found that Mr. Ford had no limitations in daily living activities or social functioning, no episodes of decompensation of extended duration, and only mild limitation in concentration, persistence or pace, and noted that Mr. Ford has not alleged mental impairment as the basis of his disability claim. Id. The ALJ also credited the diagnosis of Dr. Harold Pretorius, noting, “Harold Pretorius, MD, who is both a medical doctor and a psychologist, diagnosed depression; however, treatment records do not show he has recommended mental health treatment.” Id. Finding only mild limitation in concentration, the ALJ found that Mr. Ford's mental impairment of depression was non-severe. Id.

         At step three, ALJ Kittinger found that Mr. Ford had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work, except that he should not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and should avoid dangerous machinery. [Tr. 23.] In making this assessment, the ALJ found that Mr. Ford's impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the issues he described, such as fluctuations in blood sugar and passing out. However, she did not completely credit Mr. Ford's testimony concerning the intensity and limiting affects of Mr. Ford's symptoms. Nor did she credit Dr. Pretorius's opinions. While ALJ Kittinger recognized that “Dr. Pretorius has treated the claimant for diabetes for more than five years, ” she also found his medical opinions to be “internally inconsistent, ” and therefore afforded them only slight weight. [Tr. 24.]

         Ultimately, the ALJ found that Mr. Ford was unable to perform any past relevant work. [Tr. 25.] ALJ Kittinger credited the testimony of vocational expert Ms. Goss, who testified that somebody with Mr. Ford's characteristics could find work in the national market as a representative, doing assembly or bench work, or as a sorter or packer. [Tr. 56.] Considering the record before her, ALJ Kittinger found that Mr. Ford has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 6, 2014 through the date of the decision. [Tr. 26.] This appeal followed.



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