United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division
PAMELA MEADE SARGENT, Magistrate Judge.
I. Background and Standard of Review
Plaintiff, Neecy Merlinda Worley, ("Worley"), 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 Worley protectively filed her applications for SSI and DIB on March 12, 2010, alleging disability as of January 1, 2010, due to back pain, swelling and fatigue resulting from auto immune diseases. (Record, ("R."), at 300-01, 304-09, 380, 384.) The claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. at 157-59, 165, 168-70, 172-77, 179-81.) Worley then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, ("ALJ"). (R. at 182.) A hearing was held on May 22, 2012, at which Worley was represented by counsel. (R. at 54-94.) By decision dated June 4, 2012, the ALJ issued a fully favorable decision, finding that Worley was disabled beginning January 1, 2010. (R. at 145-50.) The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that Worley had severe impairments, namely patellofemoral arthritis and tendonitis; myalgias and myositis; esophageal reflux and cyclic vomiting syndrome; hammer toe; metatarsalgia; plantar fasciitis; Sjögren's syndrome; and Hashimoto's thyroiditis. (R. at 147.) The ALJ also found that medical improvement was expected with appropriate treatment; therefore, a continuing disability review was recommended in 60 months. (R. at 150.) On May 17, 2013, the Appeals Council reviewed the decision and remanded the matter to the ALJ for further consideration. (R. at 152-55, 232-37.) Upon remand, a second hearing was held on November 5, 2013, at which Worley was represented by counsel. (R. at 30-53.)
By decision dated December 20, 2013, the ALJ denied Worley's claims. (R. at 11-23.) The ALJ found that Worley met the disability insured status requirements of the Act for DIB purposes through September 30, 2014. (R. at 13.) The ALJ found that Worley had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2010, the alleged onset date. (R. at 13.) The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that Worley had severe impairments, namely arthritis and tendonitis of the bilateral knees; myalgias and myositis; lower back pain; hammer toe, metatarsalgia and plantar fasciitis; history of Sjögren's syndrome; and an anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified, but she found that Worley 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 Worley had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work that required no more than occasional pushing and pulling with the lower extremities, kneeling, crouching, stooping, balancing and climbing ramps and stairs, that did not require her to crawl, work around vibrating surfaces, hazardous machinery, unprotected heights or to climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds and that required no more than occasional interaction with the public. (R. at 15.) The ALJ further found that Worley should avoid activities involving deep knee bending. (R. at 15.) The ALJ found that Worley could not perform any of her past relevant work. (R. at 22.) Based on Worley'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 Worley could perform, including jobs as an inspector and an addresser. (R. at 23.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Worley was not under a disability as defined by the Act and was not eligible for DIB or SSI benefits. (R. at 23.) See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g) (2014).
After the ALJ issued her decision, Worley pursued her administrative appeals, (R. at 5), but the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (R. at 1-3.) Worley 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 Worley's motion for summary judgment filed October 28, 2014, and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment filed December 3, 2014.
Worley was born in 1965, (R. at 34, 300, 304), 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). Worley obtained her general equivalency development, ("GED"), diploma, and she has past work experience as a cashier, a certified nurse's assistant, a customer service representative, a desk clerk and a server. (R. at 34, 385-86, 395.) Worley testified at her November 2013 hearing that she had surgeries on her feet in 2011 and 2012. (R. at 35.) She stated that she took Xanax, but did not seek psychiatric treatment for anxiety and depression. (R. at 38-39.) Worley stated that she had never obtained a driver's license. (R. at 40.) She stated that she could not lift items weighing more than 10 pounds. (R. at 41.) Worley stated that she could stand and sit up to 30 minutes without interruption. (R. at 41.)
Gerald Wells, a vocational expert, also was present and testified at Worley's hearing. (R. at 45-51.) Wells was asked to consider a hypothetical individual who could perform light work that required only occasional pushing and pulling with the lower extremities, climbing of ramps and stairs, balancing, kneeling and stooping, that never required her to crawl, to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, to work on vibrating surfaces, to work around hazardous machinery and unprotected heights, or to deep knee bend and that required no more than occasional interaction with the general public. (R. at 47.) Wells stated that Worley could perform her past work as a server or dietary aide as it was performed, but not as it is listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, ("DOT"). (R. at 47.) Wells stated that Worley performed this job at the light exertional level; however, the DOT listed this job at the medium exertional level. (R. at 47.) Wells stated that a hypothetical individual of Worley's age, education and past work history, and who was limited as indicated by the ALJ, would be limited to performing sedentary work. (R. at 48.) He testified that such an individual could perform sedentary jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, including jobs as a dispatcher, a sorter/inspector and an addresser. (R. at 48-49.) Wells next testified that all jobs would be eliminated should the same hypothetical individual be off task 10 to 20 percent of any workday and if she needed to elevate her legs three to four hours a day. (R. at 49-50.)
In rendering her decision, the ALJ reviewed records from Howard S. Leizer, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist; Dr. Thomas M. Phillips, M.D., a state agency physician; Eugenia Hamilton, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist; Dr. Joseph Duckwall, M.D., a state agency physician; Dr. William M. Bell, III, M.D.; Dr. Sherif Yacoub, M.D.; Medical Associates @ Exit 7; Dr. David P. Guldseth, M.D.; Dr. Benjamin S. Scharfstein, Jr., M.D.; Holston Medical Group; Wade Smith, M.S., a licensed senior psychological examiner; Dr. John C. Allen, D.P.M., a podiatrist; Sapling Grove Surgery Center; and Dr. Steven Jackson, M.D.
On September 8, 2008, May 7, 2009, and August 31, 2009, Dr. William M. Bell, III, M.D., treated Worley for complaints of fatigue, arthritis and arthralgias. (R. at 463-66.) There is no indication in the record that Dr. Bell placed any limitations on Worley's work-related abilities.
The record shows that Worley was treated by Dr. Sherif Yacoub, M.D., from September 2008 through September 2011 for hypothyroidism, Vitamins B12 and D deficiencies, hypertension and knee, back, muscle and joint pain. (R. at 470-72, 476-79, 484-86, 491-93, 497-99, 505-07, 510-12, 582-84, 587-89, 597-99, 601-03, 611-14, 624-26, 775-76, 787-91, 795-98.) There is no indication in the record that Dr. Yacoub placed any limitations on Worley's work-related abilities.
The record shows that Worley received treatment from Medical Associates @ Exit 7 from 2008 through 2010 for complaints of bronchitis; low back pain with paraspinal muscle spasm; insomnia; hypothyroidism; Vitamin D deficiency; hypocalcemia; hypertension; lupus; anxiety; and swelling of the legs. (R. at 516-74.) In July 2008, x-rays of Worley's lumbar spine showed some degenerative osteophyte formation anteriorly. (R. at 681.) On August 5, 2008, an MRI of Worley's lumbar spine was unremarkable. (R. at 683.) On January 22, 2009, it was noted that Worley's lupus was fair. (R. at 528.) On January 26, ...