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Chandler v. Colvin

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

September 8, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Defendant.


JAMES G. WELSH, Magistrate Judge.

Patricia Ann Chandler brings this civil action (docket #3 challenging a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the agency") denying her current application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, as amended ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i and 423. Jurisdiction of the court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

Along with her Answer (docket #6), the Commissioner filed a certified copy of the Administrative Record ("R." (docket #7) which includes the evidentiary basis for the findings and conclusions set forth in the Commissioner's final decision. Each party has moved for summary judgment (docket #11 and #14) and filed a supporting memorandum of points and authorities (docket #12 and #15). Oral argument was conducted on June 26, 2014 with plaintiff's attorney and defendant's attorney each appearing telephonically (docket #18). By standing order this case is before the undersigned magistrate judge for report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1(B).


A. 2008 DIB Application

Claiming a disability onset date of June 22, 2008 due to asthma, ventral hernia, hypothyroidism diabetes, depression, lumbar degenerative disc disease and obesity, Ms. Chandler filed her first DIB application on July 22, 2008 (R. 18, 77, 79, 99, 197). Her claim was denied initially in December 2008, on reconsideration in April 2009, and by written decision dated February 26, 2010 (R.77-87 following an administrative hearing (R. 18, 77-87).

Based on his consideration of the medical record the ALJ concluded that Ms. Chandler's degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and obesity were severe [1] impairments (R. 79-80); however, he concluded these impairments neither met nor equaled the requirements ("motor, sensory or neurological deficits") of listing 1.04[2] (R. 80-81). In making his evaluation of the severity of Ms. Chandlers symptoms, including her pain, the ALJ additionally considered the factors described in 20 CFR § 404.1529(c) and concluded her statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her symptoms were "not fully credible" (R. 81-83. Turning again to the medical evidence, the ALJ found the stage agency medical assessments in April 2009 and in December of the same year to be "based on credible objective and subjective evidence in the record" and gave them "great evidentiary weight in [his] decision" (R. 83). In contrast, he gave only "limited weight" to the May 2009 assessment of Ms. Chandler's treating physician (Dr. Timothy McLaughlin) on the basis of its inconsistency with his February 2009 assessment, its failure to take into account her lack of any follow-through with recommended physical therapy treatment, its significant inconsistency with his records ("including his own prior observations and the recommendations of the UVa Orthopaedics Department"), its lack of support in any medically acceptable clinical or laboratory findings, and its apparent basis in Ms. Chandler's self-reported limitations (R.84-85).

Turning next to consideration of Ms. Chandler's residual functional capacity, the ALJ concluded the "most persuasive evidence of [her] residual functional capacity was provided by the [state agency medical] experts, "[3] (R. 83, 85). Accepting their assessments, the ALJ found Ms. Chandler retained the ability to perform light work[4] requiring only occasional postural activities, no climbing, no production-rate work requirement and the option to work while seated for 15 minutes each hour (R. 81, 83, 85. On the basis vocational testimony at the administrative hearing, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work, but she was able to make a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy[5] and was, therefore, "not disabled" (R. 85-86). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1569a, 20 CFR § 404.1560; Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 00-4p.

The Appeals Council subsequently denied her review request on October 28, 2010 (R. 18, 92-97, and Ms. Chandler did not seek court review (R. 18.

B. 2011 DIB Application

Instead, she filed a new DIB application on January 22, 2011, in which she alleged the same June 22, 2008 onset date and raised essentially the same exertional and non-exertional medical issues (R. 184-187, 197, 201). Her current claim was denied initially on April 4, 2011 (R. 98-108, 125-135. On September 2, 2011 it was denied on reconsideration (R.109-122, 138-144), and following a June 20, 2012 administrative hearing (R. 37-73 it was denied by written decision of an administrative law judge ("ALJ") dated June 29, 2012 (R. 18-29). Once again the Appeals Council denied her review request (R. 1-5), and the unfavorable ALJ decision now stands as the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

Pursuant to a thorough and detailed assessment of the record, in his written decision the ALJ following the agency's five-step decisional process and made a series of well-supported evidentiary findings and conclusions consistent with the prior administrative decision (R. 18-30. These included finding that the prior decision had fact and circumstance relevance to the unadjudicated period pursuant to Acquiescence Ruling (AR 00-1(4).[6] He noted that Ms. Chandler's earlier application had significant time-wise proximity to her current application; concluded that her earlier residual functional capacity assessment was consistent with the current evidence, and found that the earlier assessment in fact "remain[ed] entirely correct" (R. 26-27).

Also consistent with the prior decision, the ALJ confirmed Ms. Chandler's insured status through December 31, 2013; her lack of any work activity during the relevant period; her same severe impairments (degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and thoracic spine, and obesity); the same non-severe nature of her multiple other alleged impairment; the same absence of a listing-level impairment, her same inability to perform her past relevant work, and her same retained functional ability to perform the same limited range of light work activity, given her vocational profile[7] (R. 20-28).


Based on a thorough review of the administrative record and for the reasons herein set forth, it is RECOMMENDED that the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be DENIED, the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment be GRANTED, an appropriate final judgment be entered AFFIRMING the Commissioner's decision denying a ...

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