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Currin v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

January 6, 2015

DIANNE CURRIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

DAVID J. NOVAK, Magistrate Judge.

Dianne Currin ("Plaintiff') is fifty-five years old and previously worked as a food service worker, house painter, sales attendant and cashier. On April 19, 2011, Plaintiff filed for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), alleging disability from arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), depression, high blood pressure and stroke, with an alleged onset date of April 1, 2007. Plaintiffs application was denied both initially and upon reconsideration. On April 24, 2013, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALP) held a hearing during which Plaintiff, represented by counsel, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. On May 3, 2013, the All issued a written opinion, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act ("Act"). On January 24, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the ALJ's opinion in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), arguing that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment and that, as a result, the All erred in the hypothetical that he provided to the VE. The parties have submitted cross-motions for summary judgment that are now ripe for review. Having reviewed the parties' submissions and the entire record in this case, [1] the Court is now prepared to issue a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). For the reasons that follow, the Court recommends that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14) and Motion for Remand (ECF No. 15) be DENIED, that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17) be GRANTED, and that the final decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

I. BACKGROUND

Because Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff's education and work history, Plaintiff's medical history, Plaintiff's function report, third-party function report, Plaintiff's testimony and VE testimony are summarized below.

A. Plaintiff's Education and Work History

Plaintiff was forty-seven years old on the alleged onset date. (R. at 34.) Plaintiff did not finish high school, but obtained a GED. (R. at 470-71.) In the past, Plaintiff worked as a cashier, hospital nutrition specialist, retail stock associate and house painter. (R. at 183, 471.)

B. Plaintiff's Medical History

1. Physical Treatment

On April 3, 2007, Plaintiff went to Community Memorial Healthcenter ("CMH") in South Hill, Virginia, complaining of shortness of breath, but doctors found that her lungs were clear bilaterally and that she had normal pulmonary vascularity. (R. at 232.) On October 12, 2007, Plaintiff complained of pain in her right wrist. (R. at 239.) Nripendra Devanath, M.D. found minimal degenerative joint disease at the first carpometacarpal joint in her right wrist. (R. at 239.) Dr. Devanath also noted that Plaintiff had minimal degenerative joint disease at the lateral intercarpal joint in her right wrist. (R. at 239.)

On May 23, 2008, Plaintiff visited Chris Burling, M.D. at the Mount Pleasant Family Practice in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, complaining of having trouble breathing. (R. at 275-77.) Plaintiff reported smoking half of a pack of cigarettes per day, and Dr. Burling recommended that she cease smoking. (R. at 275-77.) Dr. Burling's physical examination revealed that Plaintiff had decreased breathing sounds and expiratory wheezing. (R. at 277.) Dr. Burling diagnosed Plaintiff with acute exacerbation of COPD. (R. at 277.) Dr. Burling further treated Plaintiff's COPD with antibiotics and breathing treatments. (R. at 318-19.)

On August 14, 2008, Plaintiff visited East Texas Orthopaedics with pain in her right knee. (R. at 359.) David A. Hester, M.D. found significant right knee arthritis, ordered that Plaintiff receive Depo-Medrol injections and schedule physical therapy treatments. (R. at 359, 363.)

On October 15, 2008, Plaintiff visited Azalea Orthopedics, reporting right knee pain and swelling. (R. at 362.) Doctors determined that her degenerative joint disease may have caused the pain and swelling, but were also concerned that she might have an associated meniscal tear. (R. at 362.) On December 4, 2008, Plaintiff had an MRI of her right knee that revealed a small joint effusion, small cyst and a degenerative change in the posterior horn of the medial meniscus. (R. at 366.) However, no evidence of a tear in the cruciate or collateral ligaments existed. (R. at 366.)

On May 12, 2009, Plaintiff checked into the Titus Regional Medical Center in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, reporting a sudden onset of dizziness and lightheadedness while bending over at work. (R. at 299.) Plaintiff presented with elevated blood pressure and a possible head infarction. (R. at 299.) She reported experiencing slurred speech the previous Friday and Saturday, but it had resolved, and her lightheadedness was moderate and had improved. (R. at 299.) Plaintiff's brain scan revealed no evidence of intracranial hemorrhage, but doctors recommended that Plaintiff undergo an MRI. (R. at 307.) Her hypertension improved slightly during her time in the hospital, and Plaintiff admitted to doctors that she had not previously been following her home medication regimen. (R. at 304.)

On November 19, 2010, Plaintiff visited Richard Batz, M.D. for an x-ray of her right knee. (R. at 215.) Dr. Batz found that Plaintiff had no fracture or dislocation, but did have mild to moderate osteoarthritic changes. (R. at 215.)

On May 26, 2011, Plaintiff visited CMH for a refill of medication. (R. at 217.) Doctors recorded that Plaintiff suffered from lumbar-sacral disc degeneration. (R. at 218.) A chest x-ray showed that Plaintiff's lungs were free of any cardiopulmonary process. (R. at 221.) During Plaintiff's September 12, 2011 mental status examination with James O'Keefe, Psy.D., Plaintiff reported discomfort in her neck and extremities, had to switch chairs multiple times during the examination and stated that "mainly [her] body" kept her from working. (R. at 248.)

In early 2012, Plaintiff visited Earle Moore, M.D. at Chase City Family Practice ("CCFP") multiple times, often complaining of neck and back pain. (R. at 345-46, 348-49.) Dr. Moore treated Plaintiff for chronic back pain that she claimed kept her from being able to work. (R. at 348.) Dr. Moore found that Plaintiff had no neck tenderness or stiffness and had normal range of motion. (R. at 349.) Plaintiff reported no back stiffness or spine tenderness. (R. at 349.) Dr. Moore diagnosed Plaintiff with lumbar spine tenderness, but found that Plaintiff retained a normal range of motion. (R. at 349.) Dr. Moore also treated Plaintiff for her hypertension and COPD on several occasions. (R. at 342, 346.) On January 20, 2012, Dr. Moore found no respiratory problems or wheezing. (R. at 346.)

2. Mental Treatment

On September 14, 2005, Plaintiff went to CMH after a reported drug overdose, describing her home stressors as "unbearable." (R. at 227.) Doctors diagnosed Plaintiff with depression with suicidal ideation. (R. at 231.) On April 29, 2008, Plaintiff visited Dr. Burling, complaining of insomnia. (R. at 279.) Plaintiff discussed her history of depression, but stated that she took no medications. (R. at 279.) Dr. Burling put Plaintiff on a trial of Remeron to treat her chronic insomnia. (R. at 281.)

On May 23, 2008, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Burling, reporting light-headedness and shortness of breath related to her anxiety and depression. (R. at 275.) Dr. Burling opined that true panic attacks did not occur. (R. at 275.) Plaintiff reported taking Celexa, but it did not improve her condition. (R. at 275.) Dr. Burling noted that Plaintiff was alert and oriented, with an appropriate affect and demeanor. (R. at 277.)

On November 6, 2010, Plaintiff saw Julian I. Osuji, Ph.D. for depression and anxiety. (R. at 210-11.) Nothing made Plaintiff happy, and she spent her days searching for employment. (R. at 211.) Further, Plaintiff reported that daily activities, such as cooking and cleaning, were difficult and required her to take frequent breaks. (R. at 211.) Plaintiff also admitted that she took her brother's prescription Vicodin for her back pain. (R. at 212.) Dr. Osuji determined that Plaintiffs psychiatric symptoms were "somewhat impairing" and recommended psychotherapy for Plaintiff to learn adaptive coping skills for her depression and chronic pain. (R. at 214.)

On September 16, 2011, Plaintiff underwent a psychiatric examination with Dr. O'Keefe, during which she complained of depression. (R. at 35, 248.) She rated her depression as an eight on a one-to-ten scale, with ten being the highest level of depression. (R. at 250.) Plaintiff reported difficulty sleeping and described a major breakdown that occurred shortly after she returned to Virginia from caring for her ailing father in Texas. (R. at 250.) Plaintiff stated that she had neither energy, nor motivation to do anything. (R. at 250.) Plaintiff slept for much of the day. (R. at 250.) Plaintiff also used to be a people person but was not anymore, and most of her previous jobs did not involve substantial public interaction. (R. at 36, 250.) She reported frequent thoughts of suicide, but did not express a desire to harm herself. (R. at 250.) Dr. O'Keefe determined that Plaintiff had no psychotic symptoms and that much of her depression was secondary to her medical problems, specifically high blood pressure and arthritis, as well as her changing life circumstances, such as her separation from her husband. (R. at 251.) Dr. O'Keefe determined that Plaintiff's symptoms were likely to remit with consistent prescription treatment and counseling. (R. at 251.) Dr. O'Keefe concluded that regular work attendance and performance depended mostly on whether Plaintiff had the energy and motivation to complete assignments. (R. at 35, 252.) He opined that Plaintiff could accomplish her work activities if she had the energy and motivation to follow through. (R. at 35-36.)

On January 3, 2012, Plaintiff visited Dr. Moore at CCFP for continuing treatment of her hypertension and COPD. (R. at 342-44.) At this time, Dr. Moore noted that Plaintiff had normal memory function and her insight was not impaired. (R. at 342.) Plaintiff's depression was chronic, but controlled. (R. at 343.) On January 20, 2012, Plaintiff complained of back and neck pain, but said that she had not felt "down, depressed or hopeless" over the previous two weeks. (R. at 345.) On March 12, ...


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