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Casey v. Saul

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

October 30, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT



         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's complaint seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the final decision of the Commissioner denying his claim for Social Security disability benefits. The fact and law summaries of Plaintiff and Defendant are at Dockets # 15 and 20. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge to determine this case, with any appeal lying before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. (Docket # 11.)

         The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that Plaintiff's spine disorder, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and hearing disorder limit him to unskilled, sedentary work. (Administrative Record (AR) at 15- 16.) Plaintiff argues that he is more limited than the ALJ found in light of 1) the opinion of his treating advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), Leon Kehrer; 2) the opinion of one-time examining consultant, licensed clinical psychologist Lisa M. King, Psy.D.; and 3) his testimony and allegations of pain, psychological, and other subjective symptoms.

         An ALJ is required to weigh opinions from APRNs, examining psychologists, and allegations of subjective symptoms based upon a weighing of multiple factors (as set forth at Social Security Ruling (SSR) 06-03, 2006 WL 2329939, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(3)-(6), and 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(3)(i)-(vii)). Plaintiff's arguments are unpersuasive because they do not show that the ALJ abused her discretion in weighing these factors or that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's findings. While substantial evidence may have supported a different weighing, this does not warrant judicial disturbance of the ALJ's decision for the reasons explained by the Sixth Circuit:

The substantial-evidence standard is met if a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion. The substantial-evidence standard ... presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the courts. Therefore, if substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, this Court defers to that finding even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion.

Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 405-06 (6th Cir. 2009) (internal quotations eliminated).

         Because the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and because Plaintiff's arguments are unpersuasive, the Court will AFFIRM the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISS Plaintiff's complaint.

         Plaintiff's disability claim and the ALJ's decision

         Plaintiff is a younger individual born in 1975. (AR at 19.) He alleges that he became disabled in April 2015, after falling from a tree while helping a neighbor retrieve a cat. (AR at 41.) Physically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from a spine disorder that limits him to sedentary work. (AR at 15, 16). Mentally, even before the fall, Plaintiff suffered from affective and anxiety disorders (as well as addiction to alcohol, Lortab, and methamphetamines, which he overcame prior to 2015). (AR at 15; Docket # 15 at 3.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff's affective and anxiety disorders limit him to simple, routine tasks accomplished in no more than two-hour segments, with no production / quota-based tasks, and only occasional contact with supervisors, coworkers, and the public. (AR at 16.)

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff is not disabled because, although he can no longer perform any past relevant work, he retains the ability to perform a significant number of unskilled, sedentary jobs in the national economy. (AR at 20.) Examples of such jobs include document preparer, ticket checker, and surveillance system monitor. (Id.)

         The ALJ's weighing of the medical opinions

         The Orthopaedic Institute of Western Kentucky treated Plaintiff for his spine disorder. According to Plaintiff, advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) Leon Kehrer is “part of a multi-factorial treatment team at the Orthopaedic Institute.” (Docket # 15 at 15.) In November 2017, apparently at Plaintiff's request, APRN Kehrer completed the Attending Physician Restrictions form, finding, among other things, that Plaintiff's impairments would likely result in routine absences from work four or more days per month. (AR at 608.) The ALJ recognized that APRN Kehrer's findings, if accepted, would effectively preclude “any and all vocational activity.” (AR at 17.) In determining Plaintiff's physical RFC for a limited range of sedentary work, the ALJ gave “little weight” to APRN Kehrer's opinion for several reasons:

This level of limitation is manifestly too restrictive in light of the objective record. Rather, it appears to be premised more on the claimant's subjective assertions. Also, as a nurse practitioner, Mr. Kehrer is not actually ...

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