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Tackett v. Berryhill

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

August 28, 2019

PATRICIA LYNN TACKETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, DEFENDANT.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          EDWARD B. ATKINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This is an action in which the plaintiff, Patricia Lynn Tackett, seeks judicial review of an opinion denying her applications for Title II disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental security income. She argues that the Administrative Law Judge [ALJ] erred in two ways: first, in declining to give the opinions of two treating physicians controlling weight and, second, by articulating a residual functional capacity without a proper standing. The matter is now before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons explained more fully below, the undersigned finds that the residual functional capacity determined by the ALJ is not fully supported by substantial evidence. As a result, the Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be granted and the Defendant's, denied.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff was 39 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 47 years and 7 months old on the date of the ALJ's decision. She has a high school education and past relevant work as a nursing assistant. On September 21, 2015, Tackett filed an application for Title II disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning April 1, 2015 due to shoulder and knee problems. Her claims were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. After a hearing before an ALJ, her applications were denied by a decision dated March 27, 2018. Then, on June 27, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's determination the final agency decision. She filed this action seeking judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

         In denying her claims, the ALJ followed the Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation process for disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). In his decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2020. At Step 1, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of disability. At Step 2, the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: left knee medial meniscus tear/ACL insufficiency, right knee ACL, and right shoulder tendinosis. At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination or impairments that meets or equals one listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App'x 1. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work, except she can:

stand up to 8 hours; sit up to 6 hours; occasionally push and pull with the lower extremities bilaterally; occasionally reach overhead with the right non-dominant upper extremity; frequently reach in all other directions with the non-dominant right upper extremity; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently balance and stoop; occasionally kneel and crouch; never crawl. Additionally, the claimant must avoid even moderate exposure to extreme cold, vibration, and hazards (which are unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts).

         At Step 4, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. At Step 5, the ALJ found, based on vocational expert (“VE”) testimony, that Plaintiff is capable of performing work within the light exertional level as a cashier, salesclerk and shipping/receiving clerk. She could also perform work within the sedentary exertional level as inspector, charge account clerk, and document clerk. Thus, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), this Court may review the record for the limited purpose of inquiring into whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971). “The substantial evidence standard is met if a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion.” Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (internal citations omitted). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)(quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 229 (1938)); Sias v. Secretary, 861 F.2d 475 (6th Cir. 1988). In conducting its review, a court may not try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or decide questions of credibility. See Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012). Similarly, an administrative decision is not subject to reversal even if substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion. See Ulman, 693 F.3d at 714. Even if the Court were to resolve the factual issues differently, the ALJ's decision must stand if supported by substantial evidence. See Tyra v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 896 F.2d 1024, 1028 (6th Cir. 1990).

         ANALYSIS

         In this action, Tackett asserts two errors by the ALJ which resulted in a finding not properly supported by substantial evidence: first, in declining to give the opinions of two treating physicians controlling weight and, second, by articulating a residual functional capacity without a standing limitation supported by the evidence. Because the Court finds merit with the second argument, a remand is appropriate.

         I.

         The plaintiff first argues that the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence where he failed to follow the treating physician rule when weighing the opinions of Plaintiff's treating orthopedic surgeon, Rob Royalty, M.D., and primary care physician, Jack Kendrick, M.D. When arriving at an RFC based upon his review of the record, the ALJ determined that the plaintiff can perform light work, except the plaintiff can:

stand up to 8 hours; sit up to 6 hours; occasionally push and pull with the lower extremities bilaterally; occasionally reach overhead with the right non-dominant upper extremity; frequently reach in all other directions with the non-dominant right upper extremity; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently balance and stoop; occasionally kneel and crouch; never crawl. Additionally, the claimant must avoid even ...

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