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Worley v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division

March 30, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant


Pamela Meade Sargent, United States Magistrate Judge.

I. Background and Standard of Review

Plaintiff, Felisha Gail 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 September 12, 2011, alleging disability as of July 21, 2011, due to depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, panic attacks and suicidal ideation. (Record, (“R.”), at 190-99, 209, 232, 236, 264.) The claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. at 89-91, 101-04, 106-10, 112-17, 119-21.) Worley then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, (“ALJ”). (R. at 122-23.) A hearing was held by video conferencing on April 15, 2013, at which Worley was represented by counsel. (R. at 22-40.)

By decision dated April 29, 2013, the ALJ denied Worley’s claims. (R. at 10-21.) The ALJ found that Worley met the nondisability insured status requirements of the Act for DIB purposes through December 31, 2015. (R. at 12.) He found that Worley had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 21, 2011, the alleged onset date. (R. at 12.) The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that Worley had severe impairments, namely anxiety, depression and panic attacks, but he 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 12-13.) The ALJ found that Worley had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels requiring no more than one- to two-step job instructions and no more than occasional interaction with the general public. (R. at 14.) The ALJ found that Worley was able to perform her past relevant work as a clean-up worker. (R. at 19.) 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 other jobs existed in the national economy that Worley could perform, including jobs as a night cleaner, an assembler and a mail routing clerk. (R. at 19-20.) 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 20.) See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), (g), 416.920(f), (g) (2015).

After the ALJ issued his decision, Worley pursued her administrative appeals, (R. at 6), but the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (R. at 1-4.) 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 (2015). This case is before this court on Worley’s motion for summary judgment filed May 11, 2015, and the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment filed June 15, 2015.

II. Facts

Worley was born in 1984, (R. at 190, 192), which classifies her as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c). She has a high school education, and she obtained a certificate in phlebotomy. (R. at 25, 210.) She has past work experience as a bank teller, a customer service representative, a cashier, a cook and a buser. (R. at 26.) Worley stated that she was unable to work because she could not function well around crowds and other people. (R. at 27.) She stated that she received therapy and counseling, as well as medication, and that they “are very helpful.” (R. at 28.) Worley stated that she did not experience any side effects from her medications. (R. at 29.) She stated that she attempted to harm herself by cutting her wrists; however, she did not seek medical attention other than calling her counselor. (R. at 30.)

Asheley Wells, a vocational expert, also was present and testified at Worley’s hearing. (R. at 35-38.) Wells classified Worley’s past work as a bank teller as light[1] and skilled; as a telephone representative as sedentary[2] and semiskilled; as a cashier as light and unskilled; as a clean-up worker as medium[3] and semi-skilled; and as a fast food worker as light and unskilled. (R. at 37.) Wells was first asked to consider a hypothetical individual of Worley’s age, education and work history who would have no exertional limitations and who would require only one- to two-step job instructions and no more than occasional interaction with the general public. (R. at 37.) Wells testified that such an individual could perform Worley’s past work as a clean-up worker, as well as other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, including those of a night cleaner, an assembler and a mail routing clerk. (R. at 37-38.) Wells next testified that a hypothetical individual who had no useful ability to follow work rules; to relate to co-workers; to deal with the public; to use judgment; to interact with supervisors; to deal with work stresses; to function independently; to maintain attention and concentration; to relate predictably in social situations; to understand, remember and carry out simple job instructions; and to demonstrate reliability and who would be absent from work more than two days per month could not perform any work. (R. at 38.)

In rendering his decision, the ALJ reviewed records from Wise County Public Schools; Jo McClain, P.C., a state agency professional counselor; Dr. Richard Surrusco, M.D., a state agency physician; Dr. Paula Nuckols, M.D., a state agency physician; Eric Oritt, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist; Norton Community Hospital; Medical Associates of Big Stone Gap; Dr. Maurice Nida, D.O.; Lonesome Pine Hospital; Medical Associates of Southwest Virginia; Dr. Eric D. Moffet, M.D., a psychiatrist; D. Kaye Weitzman, L.C.S.W., a licensed clinical social worker; PD1/Frontier Health; Wellmont Bristol Regional Medical Center; and Robert S. Spangler, Ed.D., a licensed psychologist.

Records from Wise County Public Schools indicate that on January 23, 1997, Worley was evaluated for problems of poor grades, problems at school and failing grades. (R. at 295-96.) Worley cried during the initial interview and showed signs of depression. (R. at 295.) She was diagnosed with academic problems and encopresis[4] without constipation and overflow incontinence.[5] (R. at 296.) On January 27, 1997, a psychological evaluation was conducted to determine if Worley needed to be placed in special education classes. (R. at 290-94.) The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children - Third Edition, (“WISC-III”), was administered, and Worley obtained a performance IQ score of 91±5, a verbal IQ score of 91±3 and a full-scale IQ score of 90±3. (R. at 287, 291.) It was determined that Worley’s learning styles were balanced, and there were no signs of organicity, cultural adversity or inherent attention deficits. (R. at 293.) Her cognitive skills were scattered, suggesting that lapses in attention and motivation were likely factors that influenced how she learned and performed. (R. at 293-94.)

The record shows that Dr. Maurice Nida, D.O., treated Worley for migraine headaches since 2002. (R. at 401-402, 405-06, 410-16.) During this time, it was noted that Worley’s migraines were stable and controlled with medication. (R. at 401-02, 405, 411-12, 414.) On August 30, 2007, Worley complained of bilateral hip pain following a motor vehicle accident that occurred the previous year. (R. at 395.) No significant limited range of motion was noted. (R. at 395.) An x-ray of Worley’s right hip was normal, with the exception of metallic clips over the first sacral segment on the right side. (R. at 313.) On February 15, 2010, Worley complained of migraine headaches and inquired as to weight loss therapy. (R. at 392.) She weighed 238 pounds. (R. at 392.) Examination was negative, and Worley’s extremities showed no weakness, clubbing, cyanosis or edema with normal pulses. (R. at 392.) Dr. Nida diagnosed migraines and weight gain. (R. at 393.)

On July 7, 2011, Worley reported that medication helped with her migraine headaches. (R. at 383.) Worley reported feelings of lightheadedness and pallor resulting from iron deficiency anemia; however, she stated that she discontinued her iron supplements due to stomach upset. (R. at 383.) She complained of left wrist and elbow pain resulting from carpel tunnel syndrome. (R. at 383.) Worley was 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 249 pounds. (R. at 384.) Worley stated that Tylenol relieved her headaches. (R. at 384.) While Worley stated that her vision was getting “blurry, ” her visual examination was normal. (R. at 384.) Dr. Nida reported that Worley’s physical examination was normal. (R. at 384-86.) Her affect was appropriate; her cranial nerves were grossly intact; she had normal motor strength; and she had a normal gait and reflexes. (R. at 385.) On July 20, 2011, Worley’s examination was normal. (R. at 331-32.) Dr. Sam G. Vorkpor, M.D., diagnosed depression with anxiety; and anxiety with an acute reaction to gross stress. (R. at 332.) On July 27, 2011, Worley complained of depression. (R. at 381.) Dr. Nida reported ...

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