United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division
SONDRA G. MATHIAS, Plaintiff
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
PAMELA MEADE SARGENT, Magistrate Judge.
I. Background and Standard of Review
Plaintiff, Sondra G. Mathias, ("Mathias"), 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 Mathias protectively filed her applications for SSI and DIB on November 20, 2009, alleging disability as of November 16, 2009, due to degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, depression, thyroid problems and inability to concentrate. (Record, ("R."), at 202-07, 219, 223, 266.) The claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. at 109-11, 118, 122-24, 126-31, 133-35.) Mathias then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, ("ALJ"). (R. at 136-37.) A video hearing was held on August 14, 2012, at which Mathias was represented by counsel. (R. at 23-52.)
By decision dated August 29, 2012, the ALJ denied Mathias's claims. (R. at 11-22.) The ALJ found that Mathias met the disability insured status requirements of the Act for DIB purposes through December 31, 2010. (R. at 13.) The ALJ found that Mathias had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 16, 2009, the alleged onset date. (R. at 13.) The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that Mathias had severe impairments, namely degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, borderline intellectual functioning and pain disorder, but the ALJ found that Mathias 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 13-14.) The ALJ found that Mathias had the residual functional capacity to perform simple, unskilled light work that required no more than occasional interaction with the public or co-workers. (R. at 15.) The ALJ found that Mathias was able to perform her past relevant work as a flagger. (R. at 20.) Based on Mathias'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 in the national economy that Mathias could perform, including jobs as a photocopy machine operator, a marker and a stock checker. (R. at 20-21.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Mathias was not under a disability as defined by the Act and was not eligible for DIB or SSI benefits. (R. at 21.) See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), (g), 416.920(f), (g) (2014).
After the ALJ issued his decision, Mathias pursued her administrative appeals, but the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (R. at 1-5.) Mathias 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 (2014). This case is before this court on Mathias's motion for summary judgment filed July 1, 2014, and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment filed August 4, 2014.
Mathias was born in 1963, (R. at 202, 219), which, at the time of the ALJ's decision, classified her as a "younger person" under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c). Mathias has an eleventh-grade education. (R. at 228.) She has past work experience as a fence builder, a construction worker, a flagger and a fast food cook. (R. at 44-45.) Mathias testified at her hearing that she did not like being around people. (R. at 28.) She stated that she did not go around people, including her children and grandchildren. (R. at 28.) Mathias stated that she did not experience any side effects from her medication and that the medication helped "some" with her symptoms. (R. at 29.) She stated that she cried "all the time" and had no desire to do anything. (R. at 33.) Mathias stated that she had one friend that she talked to on the phone. (R. at 33.)
Vocational expert, James Williams, testified at Mathias's hearing. (R. at 49-41-50.) Williams identified Mathias's past job as a flagger as unskilled light work; her job as a fence builder and construction worker as unskilled very heavy work; and her job as a fast food worker as skilled medium work. (R. at 44-45.) The ALJ asked Williams to consider a hypothetical individual of Mathias's age, education and work experience, who could perform simple, routine, unskilled light work with only occasional interaction with the public and co-workers. (R. at 45.) Williams testified that such an individual could perform Mathias's past work as a flagger. (R. at 45-46.) Williams also identified jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national or regional economy that such an individual could perform, including jobs as a photocopy machine operator, a price changer, a marker and a stock checker. (R. at 46-47.) Williams stated that there would be no jobs available that the hypothetical individual could perform should she be absent from work more than two or three days a month and if she had no ability to demonstrate reliability. (R. at 48-49.)
In rendering his decision, the ALJ reviewed records from Wise County Public Schools; Dr. Hillery Lake, M.D., a state agency physician; Dr. Andrew Bockner, M.D., a state agency physician; Stone Mountain Health Services; B. Wayne Lanthorn, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist; Robert S. Spangler, Ed.D., a licensed psychologist; and Crystal Burke, L.C.S.W., a licensed clinical social worker.
On June 22, 2009, Mathias was seen at Stone Mountain Health Services, ("Stone Mountain"), for complaints of a "tremendous" amount of stress at work and frequent crying spells. (R. at 331-32.) She reported that she had to quit her job due to the stress. (R. at 332.) Mathias stated that all she wanted to do was stay at home due to increased anxiety and depression. (R. at 332.) She was told to contact Wise County Mental Health. (R. at 332.) On August 21, 2009, Mathias reported that she was depressed "at times." (R. at 330.) She had not yet sought behavioral health services. (R. at 330.) On October 21, 2009, Mathias admitted that she was having problems with depression, stating that she had no motivation to go anywhere or to do anything. (R. at 328.) She had not yet sought behavioral health services. (R. at 328.) Mathias was prescribed Prozac. (R. at 327.) On November 20, 2009, Mathias reported that she felt like "a new person." (R. at 325.) She stated that she had been leaving her home without worry and was able to tolerate her grandchildren. (R. at 325.)
From April 15, 2010, through November 10, 2010, Mathias began medical visits that included psychological evaluations. (R. at 418-41.) During this time, Mathias's mood and affect were normal, as were her memory, judgment and insight. (R. at 419, 422, 425, 429, 431, 434, 437, 440.) On November 10, 2010, Mathias appeared sad and was crying. (R. at 419.) She reported that her brother had died in a motor vehicle accident on November 1, 2010. (R. at 418.) Despite her grief, Mathias's orientation, memory, judgment and insight were normal. (R. at 419-20.) Xanax was added to Mathias's medication regimen. (R. at 420.)
On December 2, 2010, Mathias underwent a behavioral health consultation. (R. at 416.) Mathias's mood was depressed, and her affect was congruent; however, her memory and thought content were intact. (R. at 416.) She was diagnosed with depressive disorder, not otherwise specified; anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified; and bereavement. (R. at 416.) On December 10, 2010, Mathias reported that she was concerned over her brother's death and the care ...