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Wildes v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

May 25, 2018




         Before the Court is plaintiff Mary Ann Wildes's appeal from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security[1](“Commissioner”) denying her application for disabled widow's benefits and supplemental security income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, 1381-1385. (ECF No. 1.) The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (ECF No. 15.) The case was reassigned to the undersigned on March 13, 2017. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


         Wildes applied for disabled widow's benefits and SSI on December 13, 2012, with an alleged onset date of June 1, 2007. (R. 191-99; 200-06.) The claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 96; 112.) At Wildes's request, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing and issued a written decision. (R. 34-43.) In her written decision, the ALJ first found that Wildes had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (R. 36.) Second, the ALJ determined that Wildes had the following severe impairments: vision loss involving the left eye, diabetes mellitus, type II, and hypertension. (R. 36.) Third, the ALJ determined that Wildes did 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. (R. 37.) The ALJ also determined that Wildes retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

engage in work activity at the light exertional level with the following limitations. She must never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She is limited to engaging in occasional postural activities such as balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. She must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as machinery or heights.

(R. 37-38.) In making this RFC determination, the ALJ first noted that, despite alleging an onset of disability in 2007, the evidence submitted did not reveal consistent medical care until 2013. (R.38.) In June 2011, Wildes received treatment for acute retinal vein occlusion in her left eye. (R. 38.) In 2013, Rodney Anderson, M.D., a State agency consultant, provided a Physical Residual Capacity regarding Wildes's limitations and opined that she could lift and carry up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; could sit, stand and walk up to six hours in an eight-hour workday, and could occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, scaffolds, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, and must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as machinery and heights. (R. 39.) Robert Kanard, M.D., a State agency consultant, reviewed the file at the reconsideration level and agreed with Dr. Anderson's assessment. (R. 39.) The ALJ afforded great weight to these findings because Dr. Anderson and Dr. Kanard were familiar with the disability process and their opinions were generally consistent with the other medical evidence. (R. 39.) Nonetheless, the ALJ's RFC determination accounted for additional limitations. In August 2014, Wildes received treatment from Robert Dunnebacke, M.D., a primary care physician. (R. 39.) Dr. Dunnebacke recorded Wildes's blood pressure and instructed her to follow up in three weeks regarding hypertension; Wildes presented at only one follow up appointment. (R. 39.) Dr. Dunnebacke's records indicated Wildes's hypertension improved with treatment and he never reported any complications resulting from the hypertension. (R. 39.)

         In 2014, Wildes's attorney hired John Woods, M.D., to conduct an independent medical examination. (R. 40.) Wildes complained of weakness in the bilateral hands, legs, and hips, among other ailments. (R. 40.) Dr. Woods's assessment included the opinions that Wildes could lift and carry less than ten pounds, could sit up eight hours in an eight-hour workday, and could walk and stand up to two hours in an eight-hour workday. (R. 40.) The ALJ determined that Dr. Woods was a one-time examining source, and thus his opinion was not entitled to controlling weight. The ALJ afforded little weight to Dr. Woods's opinion because it appeared to be based primarily on Wildes's subjective complaints and because his opinion was inconsistent with the other medical evidence of record, notably Dr. Anderson and Dr. Kanard's assessments. (R. 40.) In evaluating Wildes's subjective complaints, the ALJ noted that evidence in the record showing that since the alleged onset date of disability, Wildes has retained the ability to independently perform personal care needs, household tasks, drive, shop, read, and watch television. (R. 40.) Thus, the ALJ determined that inconsistencies between Wildes's allegations and the medical evidence weakened her credibility, and specifically noted that Wildes filed her claims for disability benefits in June 2012, only months after her parents's benefits and income from her children's benefits stopped. (R. 41.)

         Fourth, the ALJ determined that Wildes had no past relevant work. (R. 41.) Finally, the ALJ determined that, considering Wildes's age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy which she could perform. (R. 41.) Thus, the ALJ found that Wildes was not disabled. (R. 42.) The Social Security Administration's (“SSA”) Appeals Council denied Wildes's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1.)

         Wildes filed the instant action on August 25, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) Wildes argues that the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 22 at 15-16.) Specifically, Wildes argues that no medical evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion that Wildes could perform light work, which includes the ability to lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. (Id. at 16.) Wildes states that the ALJ erred in affording great weight to Dr. Anderson and Dr. Kanard, and little weight to Dr. Woods, whom Wildes asserts is a treating physician. (Id. at 16-17.) Wildes finally states that the ALJ disparaged Wildes by suggesting that the timing of the filing of her disability claims was suspect where she filed it months after her parent's and children's benefits expired, and Wildes asserts that the ALJ's “personal view of Plaintiff's worthiness was not an appropriate decisional criteria.” (Id. at 18.)


         A. Standard of Review

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a claimant may obtain judicial review of any final decision made by the Commissioner after a hearing to which he or she was a party. “The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to whether there is substantial evidence to support the decision and whether the Commissioner used the proper legal criteria in making the decision. Id.; Winn v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 615 Fed.Appx. 315, 320 (6th Cir. 2015); Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011); Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance, and is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Kirk v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).

         In determining whether substantial evidence exists, the reviewing court must examine the evidence in the record as a whole and “must ‘take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.'” Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990) (quoting Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 388 (6th Cir. 1984)). If substantial evidence is found to support the Commissioner's decision, however, the court must affirm that decision and “may not even inquire whether the record could support a decision the other way.” Barker v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 789, 794 (6th Cir. 1994) (quoting Smith v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 893 F.2d 106, 108 (6th Cir. 1989)). Similarly, the court may not try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or decide questions of credibility. Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007)). Rather, the Commissioner, not the court, is charged with the duty to weigh the evidence, to make credibility determinations, and to resolve material conflicts in the testimony. Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997); Crum v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 642, 644 (6th Cir. 1990); Kiner v. Colvin, No. 12-2254-JDT, 2015 WL 1295675, at *1 (W.D. Tenn. Mar. 23, 2015).

         B. The ...

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