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Thaxton v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

October 17, 2019

DERRICK L. THAXTON PLAINTIFF
v.
ANDREW SAUL, COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION[1]DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          H. Brent Brennenstuhl, United States Magistrate Judge.

         BACKGROUND

         Before the Court is the complaint (DN 1) of Derrick L. Thaxton (“Plaintiff”) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both the Plaintiff (DN 12) and Defendant (DN 18) have filed a Fact and Law Summary. For the reasons that follow, the final decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED, and judgment is GRANTED for the Commissioner.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties have consented to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge conducting all further proceedings in this case, including issuance of a memorandum opinion and entry of judgment, with direct review by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the event an appeal is filed (DN 10). By Order entered April 18, 2019 (DN 11), the parties were notified that oral arguments would not be held unless a written request therefor was filed and granted. No such request was filed.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         In April 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income Benefits (Tr. 14, 178-80, 181-87, 188-89, 190-97). Plaintiff alleged that he became disabled on March 15, 2013 because of the following impairments: bipolar disorder, diabetes, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, major depressive disorder, alcohol dependence, hypertension, obesity, right knee injury, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (Tr. 14, 214). On August 14, 2014, Administrative Law Judge Mary S. Lassy (ALJ Lassy) conducted a video hearing from Paducah, Kentucky (Tr. 14, 31-33). Plaintiff and his attorney, Steve Wilson, participated from Owensboro, Kentucky (Id.). Kenneth Boaz, an impartial vocational expert, appeared and testified during the hearing (Id.).

         In a decision dated September 24, 2014, ALJ Lassy evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 14-25). At the first step, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 15, 2013, the alleged onset date (Tr. 16). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and a history of alcohol dependence (Id.). At the third step, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 16-17).

         At the fourth step, ALJ Lassy found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: can understand, remember, and carry out simple and occasional detailed instructions; can sustain attention for simple and occasional detailed tasks; can interact with coworkers and supervisors occasionally, but unable to interact with the general public; can adapt to stress in an object oriented work setting, but is unable to perform fast-paced or quota based work; and should avoid concentrated exposure to work at unprotected heights and around hazardous machinery (Tr. 18). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of his past relevant work (Tr. 23).

         ALJ Lassy proceeded to the fifth step where he considered Plaintiffs residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 23-24). The ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy (Id.). Therefore, ALJ Lassy concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a “disability," as defined in the Social Security Act, from March 15, 2013, through the date of the decision, September 24, 2014 (Tr. 25).

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 7-8). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review (Tr. 1-4).

         On February 26, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint before the Court (DN 1, Civil Action No. 4:16-CV-00025-JHM-HBB). After considering the arguments of Plaintiff and the Commissioner, the undersigned magistrate judge recommended that judgment be granted for Plaintiff and the case be remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further proceedings (DN 13, 14, 15). More specifically, the undersigned concluded ALJ Lassy's assignment of weight to the opinions of Dr. Veeravalli and Marcy E. Walpert, M.A., was not supported by substantial evidence in the record and did not comport with applicable law (DN 15). The District Judge adopted the undersigned's recommendation, reversed the final decision of the Commissioner, and remanded the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings (DN 16, 17). The Appeals Council then remanded the case to an Administrative Law Judge (Tr. 635).

         On June 9, 2018, Administrative Law Judge Stacey L. Foster (“ALJ Foster”) conducted a video hearing from Paducah, Kentucky (Tr. 534, 561-63). Plaintiff and her attorney, Stephen Wilson, participated from Owensboro, Kentucky (Id.). Kenneth Boaz, an impartial vocational expert, also testified during the hearing (Id.).

         In a decision dated October 3, 2018, ALJ Foster evaluated this adult disability claim pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation process promulgated by the Commissioner (Tr. 534-553). At the first step, ALJ Foster found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial activity since March 15, 2013, the alleged onset date (Tr. 536). At the second step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and alcohol use disorder (Id.). At the third step, ALJ Foster found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 (Tr. 537).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions and procedures involving brief initial learning periods of 30 days or less; can maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for simple tasks involving little or no independent judgment and minimal variation; can tolerate occasional interaction with co-workers and supervisors but should have no interaction with the general public; and any changes in the work routine or environment should be rare and gradually introduced (Tr. 539). Relying on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that plaintiff is unable to perform any of his past relevant work (Tr. 551).

         ALJ Foster proceeded to the fifth step where she considered Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience as well as testimony from the vocational expert (Tr. 552-53). The ALJ found that Plaintiff can perform a significant number of jobs that exist in the national economy (Tr. 553). Therefore, ALJ Foster concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a “disability, ” as defined in the Social Security Act, from March 15, 2013, through the date of the decision, October 3, 2018 (Id.).

         On February 1, 2019, Plaintiff filed a complaint before the Court (DN 1). Plaintiff again challenges the assignment of ...


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