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Partin v. Berryhill

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

July 31, 2019

RETONYA PARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          KAREN K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (DE 10; DE 12.) The Plaintiff, Retonya Partin, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II and Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI. The Court, having reviewed the record, will affirm the Commissioner's decision because it is supported by substantial evidence and was decided by the proper legal standards.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In the present case, Partin filed applications for Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits on April 25, 2013. (Administrative Record (“AR”) at 378-387.) After being denied initially and upon reconsideration, Partin filed a Request for Hearing on November 21, 2013. (AR at 291-92.) Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 23, 2015. (AR at 234-59.) Partin filed an appeal with the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council remanded her claim back to the ALJ because (1) “the decision [did not] fully evaluate the claimant's subjective symptoms, including pain, and the extent to which the symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical and other evidence in the individual's record, nor their impact on the residual functional capacity;” and (2) “the hearing decision does not contain an adequate evaluation of the treating source opinions from Brian Ellis M.D., primary care physician.” (AR at 262-63.) Following a new administrative hearing, the ALJ issued a second unfavorable decision on June 21, 2017. (AR at 72-101.) The Appeals Council denied review of the second decision on April 20, 2018. (AR at 1-7.) Thereafter, Partin filed this action. (DE 1.)

         This Court's review of the decision by the ALJ is limited to determining whether it “is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.” Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009).

         In denying Partin's claim, the ALJ engaged in the five-step sequential process set forth in the regulations under the Social Security Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(e); see Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997).

         At step one, the ALJ determined that the claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 15, 2012, the alleged onset date. (AR at 80.)

         At step two, the ALJ determined that the claimant has the following thirteen severe impairments: “degenerative disk disease/osteoarthritis of the cervical spine with pain/radiculopathy; thoracic spine pain; lumbar spine pain/lumbago; degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder with history of humerus fracture; bilateral arm pain by report; bilateral hand pain; polyarthritis/diffuse myalgias; fibromyalgia; chronic pain syndrome; history of possible seizure disorder/history of acute encephalopathy; posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); dysthymic disorder/depressive disorder/major depressive disorder without psychotic features; and generalized anxiety disorder.” (AR at 80.)

         The ALJ also found a “history of left renal lesion; Vitamin D deficiency; abdominal pain; insomnia; hyperlipidemia; elevated liver function tests; fatty liver; sinusitis; urinary tract infection; headache; hematuria; osteopenia/osteoporosis; pneumonia; chest pain; status-post hysterectomy; thrombocytosis; hyperkeratosis; vulva hyperplasia; acute bronchitis; gastroenteritis; fatigue; edema by report; perianal condylomata acuminatum.” (AR at 80.) He determined, however, that these impairments were non-severe, as they have been treated symptomatically or were mentioned as a matter of historical record. (AR at 80.) The ALJ further stated that none of these impairments required anything other than conservative care, and they had no more than negligible effect on the ability to work. (AR at 80.)

         At step three, the ALJ found that Partin does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR at 81.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Partin has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and § 416.967(b), subject to certain limitations. (AR at 83.) The ALJ found that she could occasionally push and pull using the upper extremities; can occasionally climb stairs and ramps; cannot climb ropes, ladders, and scaffolds; can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; can occasionally reach overhead; can frequently handle and finger; can occasionally operate foot controls; must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, wetness, and vibration; cannot work at unprotected heights or around hazards such as heavy equipment; can understand, remember and carry out short, simple instructions and make simple work-related judgments; can maintain adequate attention and concentration to perform simple tasks on a sustained basis with normal supervision; can manage and tolerate simple changes in the workplace routine; can adapt to the pressures of simple routine work; and can interact occasionally with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public. (AR at 83-84.)

         The ALJ also found that the claimant's allegations of limitations and overall disability are not consistent with the medical or other evidence. (AR at 83-89.) Further, he gave little weight to the opinions of Partin's treating physician, Dr. Ellis, who opined that Partin is limited to less than sedentary work or is unable to work. (AR at 89-90.) The ALJ determined that Dr. Ellis's objective clinical findings were generally normal and did not support the severity of limitations he endorsed. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Dr. Ellis based his assessments primarily on Partin's subjective complaints of pain, depression, and anxiety. (AR at 89-90.)

         At step four, the ALJ found that Partin was unable to perform her past relevant work as an administrative assistant, registration clerk, or accounting clerk. (AR at 90.)

         At step five, the ALJ determined, considering Partin's age, education, work experience, and RFC, that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform, and therefore she is not disabled. (AR at 90-91.)

         ANALYSIS

         Partin raises two challenges to the ALJ's decision. She first argues that the ALJ violated 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2) by failing to state good reasons for rejecting “the uncontradicted medical opinion” from a treating source and erred in failing to give controlling weight to Dr. Ellis's opinions. (DE 10-1 at 7.) Second, Partin challenges the ALJ's credibility determination regarding her statements about her symptoms and contends that the ALJ's decision to discount her subjective complaints was not supported by the ...


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