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Maggard v. Berryhill

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

July 31, 2019

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



         In this appeal from the Administrative Law Judge's opinion denying her application for benefits, the plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed two distinct errors. First, Lynn Maggard contends that in determining her Residual Functional Capacity, the ALJ erred by failing to include restrictions espoused by her treating physician. Second, she argues that the ALJ erred by applying the wrong legal standard when rejecting her own statements of disability. The issues have been fully briefed and are now ripe for consideration. As explained below, the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 18] will be granted, and the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [R. 13] will be denied.


         The relevant procedural history of this action is not a matter of dispute. The plaintiff, Lynn Maggard, filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, alleging that she began suffering from the disabling effects of rheumatoid arthritis and shoulder pain on March 27, 2014. Following a hearing before an ALJ on October 19, 2017, her claims for disability benefits were denied by opinion dated November 8, 2017. The Appeals Counsel then denied her request for review, and this appeal followed pursuant to title 42, United States Code §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).


         When reviewing a finding that a plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act, this Court considers whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the ALJ employed the proper legal standards. Brainard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir.1989); Willbanks v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 1');">847 F.2d 301, 303 (6th Cir.1988). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 1 S.Ct. 1420');">91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971); Howard v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 276 F.3d 235, 237-38 (6th Cir.2002); Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir.2001). In this case, the same standard of review applies to all the claims pending before the Court.


         To be considered disabled under the Social Security Act, a person must be “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir.2001). Under 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B), an individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if her physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that she is not only unable to do her previous work but cannot, considering her age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which she lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for her, or whether she would be hired if he applied for work. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). In addition, the “plaintiff has the ultimate burden of establishing the existence of a disability.” Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir.1993). Landsaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 11');">803 F.2d 211, 214 (6th Cir.1986) (“The burden of providing a complete record, defined as evidence complete and detailed enough to enable the Secretary to make a disability determination, rests with the claimant.”).

         This Court employs a five-prong test to evaluate disability claims: First, the claimant must show that she is not engaged in substantial gainful activity. Next, the claimant must demonstrate that she has a “severe impairment.” A finding of “disabled” will be made at the third step if the claimant can then demonstrate that her impairment meets the durational requirement and “meets or equals a listed impairment.” If the impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the fourth step requires the claimant to prove that she is incapable of performing work that she has done in the past. Finally, if the claimant's impairment is so severe as to preclude the performance of past work, then other factors, including age, education, past work experience, and residual functional capacity, must be considered to determine if other work can be performed. The burden shifts to the Commissioner at this fifth step to establish the claimant's ability to do other work. Foster, 279 F.3d at 354 (citations omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

         In the instant case, Maggard was not engaged in substantial gainful activity. She was able to demonstrate the presence of a severe impairment that did not meet or equal a listing, and she was able to demonstrate that she was unable to engage in her past relevant work. However, her application for benefits was denied because the ALJ found that considering her residual functional capacity, which is a determination of the most that she was able to do, she was able to engage in other gainful activity.

         In her first claim of error, the plaintiff asserts that the Residual Functional Capacity articulated by the ALJ is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to explain why he did not adopt all limitations set out in a medical source opinion that he considered persuasive and favorable to Maggard. However, contrary to the plaintiff's assertions, the ALJ properly articulated the basis for the restrictions contained within the RFC, and the plaintiff's claim is therefore unpersuasive.

         The physicians who rendered opinions regarding Maggard's physical abilities and limitations include: Dr. Jaya Pampati, MD, the plaintiff's treating rheumatologist; Dr. Jeffrey Henson, M.D., a physician who performed a consultative examination; and state agency physician John Gedmark, M.D. The crux of the Plaintiff's argument is that the ALJ incorrectly fashioned restrictions for reaching, and bilateral handling and fingering into the residual functional capacity which was considered by the vocational expert when rendering an opinion that jobs exist in the national economy that she can perform. As correctly noted by the ALJ, the physicians gave the following opinions relevant to the current analysis: 1. Dr Pampati opined that Maggard could occasionally reach and occasionally handle and finger; 2. Dr. Henson opined that Maggard could occasionally reach, and frequently handle and finger. 3. Dr. Gedmark opined that Maggard could frequently push and or pull with the left arm, occasionally work overhead and frequently use the left hand for handling and fingering.

         Based upon the evidence, the ALJ formulated a residual functional capacity, stating that “After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). The claimant is limited to sedentary work with no more than frequent pushing and pulling with the left arm, no climbing of ropes, ladders or scaffolds, and no more than frequent climbing of stairs and ramps. She is limited to occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling. She is limited to occasional working with the hands overhead and frequent use of the left non dominant hand for handling or fingering. There must be no exposure to concentrated temperature extremes [and] industrial hazards.” [R. 11-1, p. 27].

         Simply, the plaintiff contends that the ALJ committed error by failing to incorporate Dr. Pampati's opinion that she could only occasionally, rather than frequently, handle and finger, and that the ALJ failed to explain his reasons for rejecting that ...

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