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Williams v. Colvin

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

February 10, 2015

JOYCE E. WILLIAMS, etc., [1] Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



I. Background and Standard of Review

Plaintiff, Joyce E. Williams, ("Williams"), Executor of the estate of Billy Joe Rhea, ("Rhea"), filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, ("Commissioner"), determining that Rhea 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 upon transfer pursuant to the consent of the parties under 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 Asubstantial evidence.'"" Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Laws, 368 F.2d at 642).

The record shows that Rhea protectively filed a DIB claim on May 2, 2011, alleging disability as of January 1, 2001, due to a herniated lumbar disc, chronic pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, patella-femoral pain syndrome and musculoskeletal pain syndrome. (Record, ("R."), at 119-20, 129, 141.) The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. at 59-61, 64-67.) Rhea then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, ("ALJ"), (R. at 72.) The hearing was held on March 5, 2013, by video conferencing, at which Rhea was represented by counsel. (R. at 27-47.)

By decision dated March 21, 2013, the ALJ denied Rhea's claim. (R. at 15-23.) The ALJ found that Rhea met the nondisability insured status requirements of the Act for DIB purposes through March 31, 2001.[2] (R. at 17.) The ALJ also found that Rhea had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of January 1, 2001, his alleged onset date, and March 31, 2001, his date last insured. (R. at 17.) The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that Rhea suffered from a severe impairment, namely pain syndrome, but she found that Rhea 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 17.) The ALJ found that Rhea had the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of medium work.[3] (R. at 18-21.) The ALJ found that Rhea could perform his past relevant work as a teacher and a coach. (R. at 21.) In addition, based on Rhea's age, education, work history and residual functional capacity and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ also found that other jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Rhea could perform, including jobs as a tutor, a sales clerk and an order picker. (R. at 22.) Thus, the ALJ found that Rhea was not under a disability as defined under the Act from January 1, 2001, through March 31, 2001, the date last insured, and was not eligible for benefits. (R. at 23.) See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), (g) (2014).

After the ALJ issued her decision, Rhea pursued his administrative appeals, (R. at 10), but the Appeals Council denied his request for review. (R. at 1-6.) Rhea 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 (2014). The case is before this court on Rhea's motion for summary judgment filed February 21, 2014, and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment filed March 25, 2014.

II. Facts

Rhea was born in 1957, (R. at 119), which classified him as a "person of advanced age" under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(e). He had a high school education and four or more years of college education. (R. at 142.) He had past relevant work experience as a media producer, a teacher and a coach. (R. at 142, 149.)

Andrew Beal, a vocational expert, was present and testified at Rhea's hearing. (R. at 42-46.) Beal testified that a hypothetical individual of Rhea's age, education and work history, who would be limited to performing work at the medium exertional level, would be able to perform Rhea's past relevant work as a teacher and a coach. (R. at 42-43.) Beal further testified that such an individual could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, including jobs as a tutor, a sales clerk and an order enterer. (R. at 43.) Beal next testified that the same hypothetical individual, but who would be limited to simple, routine, repetitive work, could not perform the jobs as a coach or a teacher. (R. at 44.) He stated that there was a significant number of jobs that the individual could perform, including jobs as a supply worker and a packer. (R. at 44-45.) When asked to consider the same individual, but who would be required to rest three-quarters of the day and who would miss, on average, two days of work a month, Beal stated that there would be no jobs available that such an individual could perform. (R. at 45.)

In rendering his decision, the ALJ reviewed medical records from Lebanon Physical Therapy; Dr. John A. Green, M.D.; Wellmont Bristol Regional Medical Center; and Teresa E. Jarrell, M.A., a licensed psychologist. Rhea's attorney submitted additional medical records from the Mayo Clinic to the Appeals Council.[4]

Rhea was treated by Dr. John A. Green, M.D., since 1984. (R. at 437.) On December 16, 1997, Rhea complained of aching in his legs and a flared prostate. (R. at 188.) On March 2, 1998, Rhea reported that he was doing "okay, " but complained of anxiety. (R. at 187.) On September 1, 1998, Rhea reported worsening panic and anxiety along with continued stomach problems and leg pain. (R. at 191.) On February 13, 1999, myalgias "all over" and leg pain were noted. (R. at 190.) Rhea had mild right lower quadrant tenderness without guarding. (R. at 195.) He reported that his panic symptoms had improved with medication. (R. at 190.) On April 20, 1999, a bone scan showed increased activity over both patellae and over the tibial tuberosities, most likely degenerative in etiology. (R. at 196.) On May 12, 1999, an x-ray of Rhea's right knee was normal. (R. at 197.) On July 15, 1999, Rhea was diagnosed with temporomandibular joint pain, ("TMJ"), and tendonitis in the knee. (R. at 198.) He continued to report knee pain on August 6, 1999, October 13, 1999, and January 29, 2000. (R. at 179, 201, 203.)

On February 17, 2000, Rhea began physical therapy for treatment of his knee, spine, hip and ankle. (R. at 173.) On March 9, 2000, after attending three sessions, the therapist indicated that Rhea had experienced a flare-up in his back and that he was to discontinue physical therapy at that time (R. at 172.) The therapist stated that Rhea probably had experienced a muscular strain due to starting an exercise program. (R. at 172.)

On March 1, 2000, Rhea complained of back pain. (R. at 177.) Straight leg raising tests were negative, and his back was nontender. (R. at 177.) On August 24, 2000, Rhea reported that while his knee and back pain had improved, it was still bothersome. (R. at 176.) On March 29, 2001, Rhea complained of pain in his legs, knees, thighs, wrists and arms. (R. at 178.) He was diagnosed with arthritis, questionable arthralgias and insomnia. (R. at 178.) On August 10, 2001, Rhea reported that his pain had improved. (R. at 209.) He stated that he could walk three miles without difficulty. (R. at 209.) On January 29, 2002, Rhea complained of panic, anxiety, claustrophobia, knee pain and trouble sleeping. (R. at 211.) Despite these complaints, he reported that he enjoyed traveling, shopping and reading. (R. at 211.) On April 2, 2002, Rhea complained of knee, leg and right jaw pain and panic attacks. (R. at 213.) On August 21, 2002, Rhea reported persistent joint pain and worsened anxiety since his father ...

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