United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
ROBERT S. BALLOU, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Chelsey Renee Meador ("Meador") filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") determining that she was not disabled and therefore not eligible for supplemental security income ("SSI"), and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. Specifically, Meador alleges that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred by failing to give her treating doctor's opinion greater weight and that the ALJ improperly discredited Meador's testimony about the severity of her symptoms. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision on both grounds. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND DENYING Meador's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 13), and GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 15.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
This Court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's conclusion that Meador failed to demonstrate that she was disabled under the Act. Mastro v. Apfel , 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). "Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Craig v. Chater , 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal citations omitted). The final decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed where substantial evidence supports the decision. Hays v. Sullivan , 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).
Meador protectively filed for SSI and DIB on November 16, 2009, claiming that her disability began on January 1, 2009. R. 12. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 48-83. On September 6, 2011, ALJ Thomas W. Erwin held a hearing to consider Meador's disability claim. R. 26-45. Meador was represented by an attorney at the hearing, which included testimony from Meador, her mother, Tracy Campbell, and vocational expert Mark Hileman. R. 26-47.
On October 14, 2011, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Meador's claim under the familiar five-step process and denying Meador's claim for benefits. R. 9-21. The ALJ found that Meador suffered from the severe impairments of obesity and affective disorder. R. 15. The ALJ found that these impairments, either individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 15. The ALJ further found that Meador retained the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but she is limited to simple routine, repetitive tasks that require no more than occasional decision making and occasional changes in the work setting; she cannot perform production rate or pace work with strict production standards, or have more than occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors, or the public. R. 17-18. The ALJ determined that Meador did not have relevant past work (R. 19), but that Meador could work at jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, namely housekeeper/cleaner, laundry worker, and photocopy machine operator. R. 20. Thus, the ALJ concluded that she was not disabled. R. 21. On February 1, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Meador's request for review (R. 1-4), and this appeal followed.
Meador asserts that the ALJ erred in two respects. First, Meador contends that the ALJ erred in failing to give more weight to the opinion of treating her treating mental health doctor, Jitendra Desai, M.D. Second, Meador argues that the ALJ improperly discredited Meador's statements of disabling symptoms. I find that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision on each ground, and recommend affirming the final decision of the Commissioner.
Meador saw her treating psychotherapist, Jitendra Desai, M.D., on numerous occasions during the relevant period for treatment of bipolar disorder. Dr. Desai stated in November 2009 that Meador was not able to function in school and employment (R. 226) and later noted in July 2011 that Meador was unable to hold a full time job. R. 256. The ALJ rejected this opinion to the extent that Dr. Desai suggested Meador was unable to perform full time work. R. 19. I find that the ALJ's decision to reject Dr. Desai's opinion is supported by substantial evidence.
The social security regulations require that an ALJ give the opinion of a treating physician source controlling weight, if he finds the opinion "well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques" and "not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the] case record." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). The ALJ must give "good reasons" for not affording controlling weight to a treating physician's opinion. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2); Saul v. Astrue , 2011 WL 1229781, at *2 (S.D. W.Va. March 28, 2011). Further, if the ALJ determines that a treating physician's medical opinion is not deserving of controlling weight, the following factors must be considered to determine the appropriate weight to which the opinion is entitled: (1) the length of treatment and frequency of examination; (2) the nature and extent of the treatment relationship; (3) the opinion's support by medical evidence; (4) the opinion's consistency with the record as a whole; and (5) the treating physician's specialization. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2)-(5). "None of these factors may be omitted or disregarded by the ALJ in weighing the value of a treating physician's opinion." Ricks v. Comm'r , 2010 WL 6621693, at *10 (E.D. Va. Dec. 29, 2010) (citations omitted).
Meador is in her early twenties and has a history of bipolar disorder. She began seeing Dr. Desai at Walnut Avenue Associates, PC as early as 2007 while she was in high school. R. 244. Meador continued to receive treatment from Dr. Desai through her alleged disability onset date of January 1, 2009. On April 28, 2009, Meador reported to Dr. Desai that she had ceased taking her medication-Geodon and Depakote-because they made her drowsy. R. 231. Meador also reported being happy, but more irritable, and was having difficulty sleeping. Meador stated that she had a new boyfriend, was working sporadically at a grocery store, and had received good grades on her school exams. Dr. Desai assessed a Global Assessment of Functioning score of 50, down from a previous score of 60. Dr. Desai noted that Meador's compliance with treatment was poor, recommended continued monitoring, and asked to see Meador again in two months.
Meador did not see Dr. Desai again until October 19, 2009. R. 230. Meador stated to Dr. Desai that "it is dawning on her that she needs to take her meds" and Dr. Desai noted that Meador was "developing excellent insight into her illness." Dr. Desai also noted stabilization with improved compliance with treatment, as well as good energy, appetite, stress tolerance, grooming, eye contact, and cooperativeness. Dr. Desai assessed a ...