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Knapp v. Berryhill

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

July 3, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Channing R. Knapp brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying his claim for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Doc. 19 (“In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, … order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.”)). See also Doc. 21. Upon consideration of the administrative record, Knapp's brief, the Commissioner's brief, and the arguments made at the hearing on May 9, 2018 before the undersigned Magistrate Judge, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be affirmed.[1]


         Knapp applied for a Period of Disability and DIB, under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 - 425, on January 18, 2015, alleging disability beginning on August 29, 2014. (Tr. 150-51). His application was denied at the initial level of administrative review on March 11, 2015. (Tr. 70-84). On April 2, 2015, Knapp requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 94-95). After a hearing was held on July 14, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Knapp was not under a disability from the date the application was filed through the date of the decision, September 20, 2016. (Tr. 52-69, 11-24). Knapp appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, and, on August 21, 2017, the Appeals Council denied his request for review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5).

         After exhausting his administrative remedies, Knapp sought judicial review in this Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an answer and the social security transcript on January 9, 2018. (Docs. 11, 12). Both parties filed briefs setting forth their respective positions. (Docs. 14, 16). Oral argument was held on May 9, 2018. (Doc. 20). The case is now ripe for decision.


         Knapp alleges that the ALJ's decision to deny him benefits is in error for the following reasons:

1. The ALJ erred by relying upon a non-examining reviewing physician's opinion to support his residual functional capacity (RFC), and
2. The ALJ erred because her assessment of Knapp's RFC was not supported by substantial evidence.

         (Doc. 14 at pp.1-2).


         Knapp was born on October 26, 1973, and was 41 years old at the time he filed his claim for benefits. (Tr. 55). Knapp alleged disability due to multiple disc problems in his back, back pain after lower back surgery, pain and/or numbness in his legs, knees, feet, ankles, and wrists, and irritable bowel syndrome. (Tr. 59-60, 167). The highest grade in school he completed was 10th grade, and he was not in special education. (Tr. 168). Prior to quitting work in 2014 due to his back pain, Knapp worked as a vinyl siding installer. (Tr. 57-59, 168). Knapp lives with his wife and teenage son. (Tr. 56). In a typical day, Knapp wakes up early in the morning, takes his medication, sits in his recliner until they take effect, and helps his disabled wife with housework and meals and his son with homework. (Tr. 62, 178). He states that he can only stand for about 15 minutes at a time and can only sit in his recliner. (Tr. 178). He has a driver's license and is able to drive. (Tr. 181). According to Knapp, he does quick trips to the grocery store and tries to sit outside every day, but does not go out much and is no longer able to camp, hunt, fish, or ride a 4 wheeler or motorcycle. (Tr. 62-63, 181-82). He claims that his medications have helped his pain, but affect his concentration, memory, and alertness. (Tr. 65-66, 183).


         After considering all of the evidence, the ALJ made the following findings that are relevant to the issues presented in her September 23, 2016 decision:

3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, and obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
* * *
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that he needs to be able to alternate between sitting and standing at will, but will not need to leave the work station, and he is unable to work around heights.
The claimant alleges that he has bad knees and bad discs in his neck and experiences pain from shoulder to shoulder, lower back pain, lumbar radiculopathy, general joint pain and popping, and popping in his shoulders and ankles. He has problems sitting for long, can only stand and walk about 10 minutes at a time each, and does not sleep well. He can lift things, but pays for it later. He spends much of the day sitting in a recliner and changing positions to get comfortable. He has a history of a failed back surgery. He has been in pain management, and his medications have been changed over the years in an attempt to find ones that work. Medications help somewhat, but he experiences the side effect of fatigue. Due to pain and medication side effects, he is not able to concentrate long enough to watch a movie. He had difficulties during the FCE on March 22, 2016. He felt terrible and was bedridden for a day afterwards.
After careful consideration of the evidence, the undersigned finds that the claimant's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely consistent with the medical ...

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