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Ladner v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

September 23, 2019




         This cause is before the Court regarding the appeal by Thalus Mark Ladner of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In rendering this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court has carefully reviewed the Administrative Record [10] regarding Ladner's claims (including the administrative decision, the medical records, and a transcript of the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ")), Plaintiff's Brief [15], and Defendant's Motion to Affirm [19] and Memorandum [20]. Plaintiff did not file a rebuttal. The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, [11], [12], and the District Judge has entered an Order of Reference [13]. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73.

         For the reasons discussed in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.


         The Social Security Administration denied Ladner’s claims initially and on reconsideration. [10] at 61, 71-77.[1] In his application, Ladner alleged that he was disabled as of December 4, 2014, because of a back injury, degenerative spinal stenosis, the need for bilateral hip replacement surgery, and arthritis. Id. at 62. At a March 20, 2017, hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Ladner amended his onset date to December 1, 2015. Id. at 10. After considering the record, the ALJ determined that Ladner was not disabled from December 1, 2015, through the date of the decision, May 24, 2017. Id. at 21. The ALJ concluded that Ladner could return to his past relevant work as a probation officer. Id. at 19. Alternatively, and with the aid of a vocational expert, the ALJ identified other jobs Ladner could perform. Id. at 20. The Appeals Council denied Ladner’s request for review on April 5, 2018, id. at 1, and this appeal followed.


         Plaintiff was born on August 10, 1977, and was thirty-nine years old at the time of the ALJ’s May 24, 2017, decision. Id. at 20. He finished the twelfth grade and completed one semester of college. Id. at 14. When he stopped working in November 2015, he was employed as a security guard. Id. His other past relevant work experience includes work as a probation officer, a deputy sheriff, and a rough neck. Id. at 19. Ladner’s earnings record shows that he will remain insured through December 31, 2019. Id. at 11.

         A brief review of the medical records will aid in the consideration of the case. Ladner experienced a work-related back injury in June 2012, while he was working as a probation officer. Id. at 14. After a course of conservative treatment, including lumbar injections, Ladner underwent total laminectomies at ¶ 4 and L5 and a discectomy at left L4-5 in March 2015. Id. In June 2015, Ladner’s treating neurosurgeon released Plaintiff from his care and to work without restrictions. Id. at 14, 549, 638.

         However, in July 2015, his neurosurgeon also referred him to a rheumatologist for diagnosis and treatment. Id. at 15. Ladner tested mildly positive for rheumatoid arthritis. Id. at 486, 497, 520. After trying other medications, the doctor treated Ladner with Humira. Id. at 15. The record indicates that by June 2016, Ladner was 50 percent better. Id. at 497. At examinations in June and October 2016, the doctor found no peripheral edema. Id. at 487, 498. However, an August 2016 x-ray of his pelvis showed severe dysmorphic changes in both hips. Id. at 435. Findings also included “severe flattening of the bilateral femoral heads, likely related to previous osteonecrosis” and “bilateral acetabular dysplasia.” Id.

         Ladner sought treatment from a pain management physician from August 2016 to January 2017. Id. at 15; 430-472. An August 2016 MRI of his lumbar spine concluded that Ladner was “status post bilateral laminectomy at L4-L5 with left posterior disc extrusion and associated spurs producing apparent impingement of the left L5 nerve root with displacement but no definite compression of the right L5 nerve root.” Id. at 372. The report went on to state that Ladner was “status post bilateral L5-S1 laminectomy with posterior central disc protrusion but no definite neural impingement.” Id. In January 2017, Ladner reported lower back pain that occasionally radiated into both buttocks, both hips, and both legs, with marked severity, that was made worse with physical activity. Id. at 430, 433. Overall, he reported that his pain was worsening, but there had been moderate improvement with physical therapy, some pain management, muscle relaxants, and other over-the-counter medications. Id. at 430. Ladner reported that his activities of daily living, self-care, social activities, and recreation had been impacted considerably, but the doctor noted that he did not use any assistance device for ambulation. Id. Ladner also reported that he did light household chores, cut the grass, wrote checks, drove, and shopped for groceries. Id. Ladner stated that he needed pain medications so that he could work comfortably. Id. An examination at that time revealed arthralgias, myalgias, joint stiffness and limb pain, but no limb swelling. Id. at 433. After examining Ladner and interpreting x-rays of his pelvis, the doctor concluded that Ladner had Perthe’s disease of the hips, failed back syndrome, sacroiliitis, and lumbar facet syndrome. Id. at 435.

         III. DECISION

         In his May 24, 2017, decision, the ALJ evaluated Ladner's impairments using the familiar sequential evaluation process[2] and found that he has the severe impairments of status post L4-5 and L5-S1 laminectomies, hip osteonecrosis, left hip bursitis, lumbar facet arthropathy, and rheumatoid arthritis, citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Id. at 13. The ALJ specifically considered whether Ladner met the requirements of Listing 1.04, Disorders of the Spine, and found that he did not. Id. After considering the evidence, the ALJ concluded that Ladner has the RFC to perform light work, except that “he can lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; stand and/or walk for no more than four hours in an eight-hour workday with walking on even surfaces only; and push and pull as much as can lift and carry.” Id. The ALJ went on to state that Ladner can “climb ramps and stairs occasionally, never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, stoop frequently, kneel frequently, crouch frequently, and never crawl. He can never work at unprotected heights and occasionally work near moving mechanical parts.” Id.

         As a part of his decision, the ALJ considered the opinions of several medical professionals, both examining and non-examining, and accorded them various weights. See Id . at 16-17. The ALJ also considered any limitations and recommendations by Plaintiff’s treating physicians. Id. at 17. The ALJ accorded great weight to the April 2015 opinion of a consultative examiner and the May and June 2015 opinions of non-examining Department of Disability Services physicians. See Id . at 16, 62, 71, and 355. He gave great weight to Ladner’s pain management doctor’s recommendations regarding workplace safety and lifting. Id. at 17. However, he gave little weight to the opinion of Ladner’s neurosurgeon, who stated that Ladner could return to work with no restrictions. Id. The ALJ gave little weight to the August 2015 opinion of a PERS Disability examiner/physician who found Ladner to be permanently disabled because her opinion was based on Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and her findings were vague. Id. at 17, 676-679. The ALJ gave little weight to the opinion of an examining physical therapist because the physical therapist determined that Ladner could lift and carry greater weight than did the ALJ. Id. at 17, 360.

         The ALJ concluded that Ladner is capable of performing his past relevant work as a probation officer, a skilled job with a specific vocational preparation level of seven, performed at a light level of exertion. Id. at 19. Alternatively, with the aid of a vocational expert, the ALJ identified other jobs that Ladner could perform. Id. at 20-21. The ALJ identified the jobs of gate guard, booth cashier, and storage facility clerk, all considered light with varying skill and vocational preparation levels. Id. Thus, the ALJ found that Ladner was not under a disability from December 1, 2015, to May 24, 2017, the date of the decision. Id. at 21.

         IV. ...

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