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Threlkel v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

July 2, 2019

VERONICA ANN THRELKEL PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Greg N. Stivers, Chief Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Objection (DN 19) to the Magistrate Judge's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation (DN 18). For the reasons outlined below, the objection is OVERRULED.

         I. STATEMENT OF FACTS

         This action arises from the denial of the protective application for Title II Social Security disability insurance benefits filed by Plaintiff Veronica Ann Threlkel (“Plaintiff”). (Compl. ¶ 6, DN 1). In her application, Plaintiff alleges that her disability began on January 1, 2014, and that she suffered from degenerative disc disease, status post cervical fusion surgery, osteoarthritis, status post right anterior cruciate ligament repair surgery, hypertension, obesity, anxiety, and depression. (Administrative R. 12-13, DN 13 [hereinafter R.]).

         The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) conducted a video hearing on May 12, 2017. (R. 10). On August 29, 2017, the ALJ rendered a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled using the five-step sequential process established by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). At the first step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from January 1, 2014, through September 30, 2015, the date her insured status expired. (R. 12). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had severe impairments, including: degenerative disc disease; status post cervical fusion surgery; osteoarthritis; status post right anterior cruciate ligament repair surgery; hypertension; obesity; anxiety; and depression. (R. 12-13). At the third step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have any impairment or combination of impairments that meets one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1. (R. 13). At the fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work but could not kneel, crawl, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. (R. 13-14). For the fifth and final step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is capable of performing a significant No. of jobs that exist in the national economy. (R. 17-18). Thus, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled and not entitled to benefits for the period of January 1, 2014, through September 30, 2015. (R. 19). Plaintiff subsequently appealed that determination to the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review. (R. 2-4).

         After Plaintiff filed the present action, the Magistrate Judge issued Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Recommendation (“R&R”) recommending that this Court uphold the ALJ's determination and dismiss the Complaint. (R&R 8, DN 18). Plaintiff then objected to the R&R. (Pl.'s Obj., DN 19).

         II. JURISDICTION

         The Court has jurisdiction to examine the record that was before the Commissioner on the date of the Commissioner's final decision and to enter a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing that decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Social security cases may receive different levels of review in federal district courts. The Federal Magistrates Act allows district judges to designate magistrate judges to issue “proposed findings of facts and recommendations for disposition . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The magistrate judge then files a recommendation, to which each party may object within fourteen days. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Those parts of the report to which objections are raised are reviewed by the district judge de novo. See Id. This differs from the standard applied to the Commissioner of Social Security's decision, which is reviewed to determine “whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted).

         Evidence that a “reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion” is substantial evidence. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation omitted). It is “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance . . . .” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (internal quotation marks omitted) (citations omitted). Where substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, a court is obliged to affirm. See Siterlet v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 823 F.2d 918, 920 (6th Cir. 1987) (citation omitted). A court should not attempt to resolve conflicts of evidence or questions of credibility. See Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The district court may consider any evidence in the record, regardless of whether cited in the ALJ's decision. See Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545-46 (6th Cir. 1986).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         In her objection, Plaintiff challenges the sufficiency of the reasons stated by the ALJ in discounting the assessment by Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Thomas Grabenstein (“Dr. Grabenstein”).[1] (Pl.'s Obj. 1-4). In particular, Plaintiff contends that the Magistrate Judge failed to articulate good reasons for placing little weight on the treating physician's assessment. (Pl.'s Obj. 1-4).

         The applicable social security regulations contain a procedural requirement that the SSA “always give good reasons in [its] notice of determination or decision for the weight [it] give[s] [a claimant's] treating source's medical opinion.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2); see also Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004) (“The regulation requires the agency to ‘give good reasons' for not giving weight to a treating ...


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