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Hamon v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

July 29, 2014

TIMOTHY D. HAMON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

ROBERT S. BALLOU, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Timothy D. Hamon ("Hamon") filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") determining that he 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. ยงยง 401-433, 1381-1383f. Specifically, Hamon alleges that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred by selectively gleaning statements from his medical records, relying upon his activities of daily living, not giving weight to the opinion of a consultative physician, and failing to consider the cumulative effects of his impairments. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision on all grounds. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND DENYING Hamon's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 15), and GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 17.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's conclusion that Hamon failed to demonstrate that he was disabled under the Act.[1] 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).

CLAIM HISTORY

Hamon protectively filed for DIB and SSI on May 11, 2010, claiming that his disability began on August 6, 1999.[2] R. 174-185. The Commissioner denied Hamon's DIB application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 56-87. The Commissioner granted Hamon's SSI application, and found him eligible for SSI benefits as of May 27, 2010. R. 110-212. On February 9, 2012, ALJ Michael Hazel held a hearing to consider Hamon's DIB claim. R. 26-55. Hamon was represented by an attorney at the hearing, which included testimony from Hamon and vocational expert Robert Jackson. R. 26-55.

On February 12, 2012, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Hamon's claim under the familiar five-step process, [3] and denying Hamon's claim for DIB benefits. R. 10-20. The ALJ found that Hamon suffered from the severe impairments of obesity, degenerative disc disease of the cervical, lumbar, and thoracic spine, and status-post surgery. R. 15. The ALJ found that these impairments, either individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 16. The ALJ further found that Hamon retained the RFC through his date last insured of March 31, 2005 to perform a range of sedentary work, with the ability to lift, carry, and push/pull up to 10 pounds occasionally; sit for six hours in an 8-hour workday; stand/walk up to two hours in an 8-hour workday; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. R. 16. The ALJ determined that Hamon could not return to his past relevant work as truck driver, general laborer, or carpenter (R. 19), but that Hamon could work at jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 20. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Hamon was not disabled prior to his last date insured. R. 20. On April 25, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Hamon's request for review (R. 1-4), and this appeal followed.

ANALYSIS

Hamon generally asserts that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Hamon claims that the ALJ "selectively gleaned statements from Hamon's medical records to support his finding;" erroneously used Hamon's activities of daily living as a basis for determining that he was not disabled; erroneously substituted his own medical opinion for that of consultative physician James Dallis, M.D.; and failed to analyze the cumulative effect of all of Hamon's medical problems prior to March 31, 2005.

Hamon claims that he is entitled to social security benefits for a closed period of time beginning August 6, 1999 through March 31, 2005, his date last insured. The focus of this claim, therefore, is on whether Hamon has established that he was disabled, and therefore eligible for benefits during this closed period. In August 1999, Hamon was forty three years old and working as a furniture delivery man (medium, unskilled and semiskilled work). R. 47-48, 174. Hamon sustained a work-related neck injury in July 1999, when he was carrying furniture and felt a "pop and a snap" in his neck. R. 301. An MRI of the cervical spine taken on August 24, 1999, showed an extradural defect at the C3-C4 and C5-C6 levels, with nerve root compression on the left side at C5-C6. R. 301. Neurosurgeon Raymond V. Harron, D.O., found that Hamon suffered from a left C6 radiculitis secondary to nerve root compression and recommended surgery. R. 301. On November 1, 1999, Dr. Harron performed an anterior cervical diskectomy and fusion at the C5-C6 level. R. 301, 305-07.

Post-surgery, Hamon continued to complain of discomfort, prompting Dr. Harron to order an electromyelogram (EMG) and nerve conduction studies to rule out the possibility of carpal tunnel syndrome. R. 300. Testing showed chronic left C5 to C7 cervical radiculopathy with no carpal tunnel syndrome. R. 311-12. In the following months, Hamon continued to report symptoms of numbness and tingling in his left thumb and index finger, and pain in his neck, left scapular area and shoulder that had not changed after the surgery. R. 279-80, 296, 311-12. His doctors determined that he had a persistent C6 radiculopathy on the left, and recommended a second surgery to decompress the C6 nerve root. R. 280, 296.

On May 26, 2000, Dr. Harron performed a left C5-C6 posterior cervical laminectomy with disckectomy on Hamon. R. 317, 321. In July 2000, Dr. Harron noted that Hamon had "improved markedly" since his last visit, with his muscle spasm in the left upper extremity "pretty much gone." R. 278. Dr. Harron stated that Hamon experienced residual numbness and tingling in a C6 distribution on the left, which he found to be a permanent disability. Dr. Harron noted that Hamon's upper extremity motor power is strong. Dr. Hamon sent him for a functional capacity exam to determine his work capacity, and also referred him to Murray Joiner, M.D. for ongoing care. R. 278.

On August 3, 2000, Terri S. Ferrier, P.T., performed a functional capacity evaluation of Hamon and found him capable of performing sedentary work. R. 325-26. Dr. Joiner also reported that two additional functional capacity exams, performed on September 18, 2003 and July 2004, also indicated that Hamon was capable of performing sedentary to light work. R. 445, 453.

Hamon began treating with Dr. Joiner in August 2000, for left neck pain with radiation to his left arm and numbness in his left fingers and palm. R. 373. On examination, Hamon had tenderness in his left neck and shoulder, limited left lateral rotation to 30 degrees and right lateral rotation to 10 degrees, a full pain free range of motion of the spine, and a negative straight leg-raising test. R. 374-75. Hamon also had normal strength throughout, normal deep tendon reflexes, but decreased sensation over some of his left digits. R. 375. Dr. Joiner diagnosed chronic left C5-6 and C6-7 radiculitis, and prescribed physical therapy and pain medication. R. 375. Dr. Joiner's subsequent records reflect that Hamon returned approximately once ...


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