United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division
ELIZABETH E. LYALL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
PAMELA MEADE SARGENT, Magistrate Judge.
I. Background and Standard of Review
Plaintiff, Elizabeth E. Lyall, ("Lyall"), filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, ("Commissioner"), determining that she was not eligible for disability insurance benefits, ("DIB"), under the Social Security Act, as amended, ("Act"), 42 U.S.C.A. § 423 (West 2011). Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This case is before the undersigned magistrate judge by transfer based on consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). Oral argument has not been requested; therefore, the matter is ripe for decision.
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 Asubstantial evidence.'"" Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Laws, 368 F.2d at 642).
The record shows that Lyall protectively filed an application for DIB on April 3, 2009, alleging disability as of April 2, 2009, due to depression, anxiety, panic attacks, acid reflux, thyroid problems, restless leg syndrome, arthritis in the left hand and insomnia. (R. at 203-04, 224, 232, 247.) The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. at 126-28, 132-34, 137-40, 142-44.) Lyall then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, ("ALJ"), (R. at 145.) The hearing was held on October 26, 2011, at which Lyall was represented by counsel. (R. at 33-56.)
By decision dated November 23, 2011, the ALJ denied Lyall's claim. (R. at 11-25.) The ALJ found that Lyall met the nondisability insured status requirements of the Act for DIB purposes through December 31, 2010. (R. at 14.) The ALJ also found that Lyall had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of April 2, 2009, through her date last insured of December 31, 2010. (R. at 14.) The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that, through the date last insured, Lyall suffered from severe impairments, namely obesity, degenerative disc disease; status-post left wrist fracture; obstructive sleep apnea; anxiety; depression; hypothyroidism; and restless leg syndrome, but she found that Lyall did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed at or medically equal to one listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 14-16.) The ALJ found that Lyall had the residual functional capacity to perform simple, routine, repetitive, light work,  which did not require more than occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, balancing, kneeling, stooping, crawling and crouching, that did not require exposures to hazardous machinery, unprotected heights, climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds, vibrating surfaces or operation of a motor vehicle and that allowed only superficial interaction with co-workers and supervisors and no interaction with the general public. (R. at 16.) The ALJ found that Lyall was unable to perform her past relevant work as a personal care attendant, a sewing machine operator or a waitress. (R. at 23.) Based on Lyall's age, education, work history and residual functional capacity and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ also found that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Lyall could perform, including jobs as an assembler, a packer and an inspector/tester/sorter. (R. at 23-24.) Thus, the ALJ found that Lyall was not under a disability as defined under the Act from April 2, 2009, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2010, the date last insured, and was not eligible for benefits. (R. at 24.) See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g) (2013).
After the ALJ issued her decision, Lyall pursued her administrative appeals, but the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (R. at 1-5.) Lyall 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 (2013). The case is before this court on Lyall's motion for summary judgment filed January 8, 2014, and the Commissioner=s motion for summary judgment filed February 10, 2014.
Lyall was born in 1967, (R. at 38, 203), which classifies her as a "younger person" under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c). She has a high school education, some general college course work and vocational education as a certified nurse's assistant, ("CNA"). (R. at 38, 230.) Lyall has past relevant work experience as a personal care attendant, a seamstress and a waitress. (R. at 38, 225.) She stated that she had not sought emergency treatment or hospitalization for her symptoms of depression. (R. at 42-43.)
John Newman, a vocational expert, also was present and testified at Lyall's hearing. (R. at 49-55.) Newman was asked to consider a hypothetical individual who could perform simple, routine, repetitive, light work which did not require more than occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, balancing, kneeling, stooping, crawling and crouching, that did not require exposures to hazardous machinery, unprotected heights, climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds, working on vibrating services or operation of a motor vehicle and that allowed only superficial interaction with co-workers and supervisors and no interaction with the general public. (R. at 51.) Newman stated that the individual would be unable to perform Lyall's past work. (R. at 51.) He stated that such an individual could perform other work that existed in significant numbers, including jobs as an assembler, a packer and an inspector/tester/sorter. (R. at 51-52.) Newman stated that there would be no jobs available that such an individual could perform should she be off task 30 to 40 percent of the workday. (R. at 52-53.) He also stated that there would be no jobs available should the same individual have an unsatisfactory ability to relate to co-workers, to interact with supervisors, to deal with work stresses, to maintain attention and concentration and to demonstrate reliability. (R. at 53-54.)
In rendering her decision, the ALJ reviewed medical records from Howard S. Leizer, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist; Julie Jennings, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist; Dr. Uzma Ehtesham, M.D., a psychiatrist; Susan G. Myers, L.C.S.W., a licensed clinical social worker; and Vada Rose, F.N.P., a family nurse practitioner.
On February 10, 2009, Lyall reported to Vada Rose, F.N.P., a family nurse practitioner, that Ativan was helping her "a lot." (R. at 705.) However, she stated that she was still sad. (R. at 705.) She reported that she recently cried so much that her husband finally took a day off of work to stay with her. (R. at 705.) On April 27, 2009, Lyall reported to Rose that she was crying a lot and that she did not feel that Lexapro was helping. (R. at 703-04.) Lyall's medication was changed to Cymbalta. (R. at 703.) On May 18, 2009, Lyall reported to Rose that Cymbalta was helping her depression, and she stated that she felt a lot better. (R. at 701-02.) In fact, Lyall described feeling better than she had felt in a long time. (R. at 701.) On June 17, 2009, Lyall reported that she was feeling worse on Cymbalta. (R. at 772.) She reported that she was crying more and thought about how her family would be if she was not around anymore. (R. at 772.) She reported that she was not suicidal. (R. at 772.) On July 29, 2009, Lyall reported that her depression had improved. (R. at 771.) Lyall was not crying as much, was not feeling suicidal and was enjoying her family more. (R. at 771.) On October 29, 2009, Lyall complained of anxiety and excessive worrying. (R. at 770.) Rose noted that Lyall had a lot of depression and anxiety. (R. at 770.) Lyall denied suicidal ideation. (R. at 770.) On May 13, 2010, Lyall reported having a bad winter and not going out much, which she believed made her depression worse. (R. at 822.) She reported feeling a difference in her depression since she started taking Abilify. (R. at 822.) Lyall was next seen by Rose on March 1, 2011. (R. at 904-06.) Lyall reported that her medication had "really worked well." (R. at 904.) She stated that she was very pleased with the way she was able to function. (R. at 904.) Lyall reported getting out more and going with her family and that her crying spells had decreased. (R. at 904.)
On April 14, 2009, Lyall reported to Susan G. Myers, L.C.S.W., a licensed clinical social worker, that all she wanted to do was sit and cry. (R. at 699.) She described feeling sad all the time and stated that her grandmother was sick. (R. at 699.) On examination, Lyall's mood was depressed, and her affect was anxious, but her orientation and thought process were intact, and she had no paranoia or delusions. (R. at 699.) Myers noted that Lyall's judgment and insight were limited. (R. at 699.) Myers increased Lyall's dosage of Ativan. (R. at 699.) Myers diagnosed recurrent, severe major depressive disorder, without psychotic behavior and panic disorder without agoraphobia. (R. at 699.) On June 8, 2009, Lyall reported that she did not like being out and could not handle being around crowds. (R. at 740.) On examination, Lyall's mood was depressed, and her affect was anxious, but her orientation and thought process were intact, and she had no paranoia or delusions. (R. at 740.) On September 15, 2009, Lyall reported having no energy and just wanting to sleep. (R. at 739.) Lyall reported that she had not left the house for three weeks. (R. at 739.) Lyall's mood was depressed, her affect was anxious, and her thought process was intact. (R. at 739.) She had no paranoia or delusions, and her judgment and insight were limited. (R. at 739.)
On August 19, 2009, Howard S. Leizer, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist, reported that Lyall suffered from an affective disorder, mental retardation and anxiety-related disorder. (R. at 80.) He found that Lyall had mild restriction on her ability to perform activities of daily living and in maintaining social functioning. (R. at 80.) Leizer found that Lyall had moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence ...