United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division
SHIRLEY F. WADE, Plaintiff
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
PAMELA MEADE SARGENT, Magistrate Judge.
I. Background and Standard of Review
Plaintiff, Shirley F. Wade, ("Wade"), filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, ("Commissioner"), denying her claims for disability insurance benefits, ("DIB"), and supplemental security income, ("SSI"), under the Social Security Act, as amended, ("Act"), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 423 and 1381 et seq. (West 2011 & West 2012). Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). This case is before the undersigned magistrate judge upon transfer by consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1).
The court's review in this case is limited to determining if the factual findings of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standards. See Coffman v. Bowen , 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). Substantial evidence has been defined as "evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). "If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is "substantial evidence."'" Hays v. Sullivan , 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Laws , 368 F.2d at 642).
The record shows that Wade protectively filed her applications for SSI and DIB on February 3, 2010, alleging disability as of December 2, 2009, due to lung problems, female problems, back problems and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ("COPD"). (Record, ("R."), at 59, 181-82, 188-94, 211.) The claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. at 99-101, 106-08, 113-15, 119, 120-22, 124-29, 131-33.) Wade then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, ("ALJ"). (R. at 134.) A hearing was held on March 26, 2012, at which Wade was represented by counsel. (R. at 31-58.)
By decision dated June 6, 2012, the ALJ denied Wade's claims. (R. at 16-25.) The ALJ found that Wade met the disability insured status requirements of the Act for DIB purposes through June 30, 2013. (R. at 18.) The ALJ found that Wade had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 2, 2009, the alleged onset date. (R. at 18.) The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that Wade had severe impairments, namely degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, COPD, right shoulder tear, depression and anxiety, but the ALJ found that Wade did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 18-19.) The ALJ found that Wade had the residual functional capacity to perform simple, routine, repetitive, light work,  that required her to only occasionally climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps or stairs, occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl and reach overhead with her right upper extremity, that did not require concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, humidity and irritants such as fumes, gases, odors, dust or poorly ventilated areas and that required only occasional interaction with the public and co-workers. (R. at 20.) The ALJ found that Wade was able to perform her past relevant work as an assembler/auto manufacturer. (R. at 23.) In addition, based on Wade's age, education, work history and residual functional capacity and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that a significant number of jobs existed that Wade could perform, including jobs as a merchandise marker, a checker or warehouse checker and an office mail clerk. (R. at 24.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Wade was not under a disability as defined by the Act and was not eligible for DIB or SSI benefits. (R. at 24-25.) See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), (g), 416.920(f), (g) (2013).
After the ALJ issued his decision, Wade pursued her administrative appeals, (R. at 10), but the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (R. at 1-3.) Wade then filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision, which now stands as the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481 (2013). This case is before this court on Wade's motion for summary judgment filed October 28, 2013, and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment filed February 14, 2014.
Wade was born in 1958, (R. at 59, 181, 188), which, at the time of the ALJ's decision, classified her as a "person closely approaching advanced age" under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(d), 416.963(d). Wade has a high school education and vocational training as a certified nurse's assistant. (R. at 212.) She has past work experience as a home attendant, a nurse's aide, a machine operator and an assembler. (R. at 213.) Wade testified at her hearing that she had attempted suicide twice by medication overdose. (R. at 40.) She stated that she was receiving treatment from Scott County Behavioral Health on a monthly basis. (R. at 41.) Wade stated that, despite taking medication, she still experienced panic attacks. (R. at 41.)
Vocational expert, Mark Heilman, testified at Wade's hearing. (R. at 49-57.) Heilman stated that Wade's past work as a nurse's aide, machine operator, home attendant and residential tech were medium,  semi-skilled work, that her job as an assembler was light, unskilled work and her jobs as a checker and marker were medium, unskilled. (R. at 52-53.) The ALJ asked Heilman to consider a hypothetical individual who could perform simple, routine, repetitive light work, who could only occasionally climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps and stairs, who could occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl, who could occasionally engage in overhead reaching with the right upper extremity, who should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and heat, humidity and irritants, such as fumes, odors, dusts, gases and poorly ventilated areas, who had no postural limitations and who could perform tasks requiring only occasional interaction with the public and co-workers. (R. at 53-54.) Heilman testified that such an individual could perform Wade's past work as a window parts assembler. (R. at 54.) Heilman also identified jobs that existed in significant numbers at the light, unskilled level that such an individual could perform, including jobs as a marker or merchandise marker, a checker or warehouse checker and an office mail clerk. (R. at 54-55.)
Heilman stated that there would be no jobs available that the individual could perform should the individual miss three or more days of work per month, be off task 20 to 25 percent of the workday or had marked limitations in his abilities to maintain attention and concentration, to be reliable and to complete a normal workday or work week. (R. at 55-57.)
In rendering his decision, the ALJ reviewed records Dr. John Sadler, M.D., a state agency physician; Dr. Michael Hartman, M.D., a state agency physician; Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center; Mountain Region Family Medicine; Dr. Robert Rosser, M.D.; Dr. Nazia I. Shehzad, M.D.; University of Virginia Hospital; and Frontier Health.
On October 12, 2003, Wade was admitted to Holston Valley Medical Center, ("Holston Valley"), after attempting suicide by medication overdose. (R. at 284-89.) She reported that she had recently gone through a divorce, that her son had left home and planned to get married and that she had lost her job the previous day. (R. at 289.) She was discharged on October 16, 2003, with a diagnosis of overdose; suicide attempt; depression; and urinary tract infection. (R. at 289.) On January 17, 2008, Wade presented to the emergency room for complaints of lower back, leg and abdominal pain. (R. at 340-44.) X-rays of Wade's abdomen showed mild dextroscoliosis of the lumbar spine and fecal retention. (R. at 343.) She was diagnosed with probable gastritis, rule out gastrointestinal bleeding, and urinary tract infection. (R. at 341.) On October 27, 2010, Wade presented to the emergency room for complaints of shortness of breath. (R. at 353-55.) A chest x-ray was normal. (R. at 355.) She was diagnosed with acute bronchitis. (R. at 354.)
Dr. Wesley Eastridge, M.D., a family medicine physician, with Mountain Region Family Medicine, ("Mountain Region"), provided Wade with gynecological treatment as well as treatment for sciatica, emphysema and COPD. (R. at 291-98, 322-28, 357.) On January 23, 2010, Wade presented to the emergency room at Holston Valley for complaints of shortness of breath and chest pain. (R. at 300-02, 348-50.) Wade reported that she had not taken medication for her pulmonary issues since 2002 due to lack of insurance. (R. at 300.) She had a depressed mood. (R. at 301.) A chest x-ray was normal. (R. at 302, 350.) She was diagnosed with dyspnea, acute bronchitis and acute COPD. (R. at 301, 349.) At a follow-up visit with Dr. Eastridge on February 5, 2010, Wade's cardiac examination yielded normal findings, and she exhibited normal respiratory effort. (R. at 295.) Wade exhibited lumbar spine tenderness, normal deep tendon reflexes, the ability to toe-heel walk and normal range of back flexion motion. (R. at 295.) Dr. Eastridge opined that Wade was unable to work any gainful employment due to COPD, lumbago, arthritis, and abnormal uterine bleeding. (R. at 295.) He recommended that Wade stop smoking completely and apply for SSI. (R. at 296.) On February 26, 2010, Wade reported that she had stopped smoking. (R. at 293, 296.) She reported that her husband left her and that she had no income other than child support from her first husband. (R. at ...