United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
DAVID A. WALDRON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge
has filed this action challenging the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiffs claims for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income benefits under the Social Security Act, as amended, 42
U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423, and 42 U.S.C. § 1381
et seq., respectively. Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
As reflected by the memoranda and argument submitted by the
parties, the issues before this court are whether the
Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial
evidence, and if it is not, whether plaintiff has met the
burden of proof as prescribed by and pursuant to the Act.
Stated briefly, substantial evidence has been defined as such
relevant evidence, considering the record as a whole, as
might be found adequate to support a conclusion by a
reasonable mind. Richardson v. Perales. 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971).
plaintiff, David A. Waldron, was born on June 10, 1960, and
eventually reached the eighth grade in school. Mr. Waldron
has been employed as a groundskeeper, truck washer, brick
mason and drywall worker, production laborer, and roofer. He
last worked on a regular and sustained basis in 2004. On
February 11, 2005, plaintiff filed an application for aperiod
of disability and disability insurance benefits. Sometime
later, he filed an application for supplemental security
income benefits. Mr. Waldron alleged that he became
disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment on
September 1, 2004, due to hepatitis C, lack of energy,
fatigue, body cramps, liver pains, headaches, low back pain,
gastroesophageal reflux disease, and numbness with weakness
in both hands. Plaintiff now maintains that he has remained
disabled to the present time. As to his application for
disability insurance benefits, the record reveals that Mr.
Waldron met the insured status requirements of the Act
through the second quarter of 2006. See gen., 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i) and 423(a).
Waldron's claims for benefits were denied upon initial
consideration and reconsideration. He then requested and
received a de novo hearing and review before an
Administrative Law Judge. By opinion dated May 24, 2007, the
Administrative Law Judge also determined that plaintiff was
not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Mr. Waldron then
sought review by the Social Security Administration's
Appeals Council. By order entered February 5, 2008, the
Appeals Council vacated the Law Judge's hearing decision
and remanded the case for further proceedings. However, on
August 31, 2009, the Law Judge again denied Mr. Waldron's
claims for benefits. On this occasion, the Appeals Council
denied plaintiffs request for review. Having exhausted all
available administrative remedies, Mr. Waldron then appealed
to this court.
order entered on May 20, 2011, this court granted the
Commissioner's motion for remand. (TR149). It seems that
portions of the recording of the hearing before the
Administrative Law Judge could not be transcribed. (TR 150).
Accordingly, the Appeals Council vacated the Law Judge's
decision of August 31, 2009, and remanded plaintiffs case for
further proceedings. (TR 116).
conduct of another administrative hearing, the Administrative
Law Judge rendered a partially favorable decision on January
4, 2012. (TR 166-96). Stated succinctly, the Law Judge found
that Mr. Waldron was disabled for all forms of substantial
gainful employment from February 9, 2006 through February 18,
2009, due to a combination of physical and emotional
problems, including chronic hepatitis C, major depressive
disorder, and anxiety with panic attacks. However, the Law
Judge went on to determine that plaintiff regained the
capacity to perform light work activity on February 19, 2009,
due to improvement in the management of his chronic hepatitis
C symptoms. (TR 193-94). The Law Judge ultimately concluded
that Mr. Waldron was disabled for purposes of his claims for
benefits from February 9, 2006 through February 18, 2009, and
that his disability ceased on February 19, 2009. (TR 195).
Mr. Waldron again sought review by the Social Security
Administration Appeals Council. The Appeals Council granted
the request, and ultimately affirmed the establishment of a
closed period of disability. (TR 200-02). However, the
Appeals Council remanded the case to the Administrative Law
Judge for further adjudication of plaintiff s entitlement to
benefits for the periods both before and after the closed
period. (TR 201). Specifically, the Appeals Council directed
the Law Judge to give further explanation as to the weight
accorded to the reports from the state agency medical and
psychological consultants, as well as to the testimony of the
vocational expert. (TR 201).
remand, the Administrative Law Judge conducted yet another
administrative hearing in which additional testimony was
received both from the plaintiff and the vocational expert.
The Law Judge produced another opinion in Mr. Waldron's
case on April 21, 2014. (TR 28-59). The Law Judge reached
essentially the same conclusions as in his earlier opinion.
The Law Judge determined that as to the period between
plaintiff's alleged disability onset date and the
beginning of the closed period of disability, plaintiff
suffered from a combination of physical and emotional
problems, which the Law Judge summarized as follows:
From September 1, 2004 through February 8, 2006 the claimant
had the following severe impairments: history of a
Boxer's fracture to the right hand; gastroesophageal
reflux disease; chronic hepatitis C; obesity; hypertension;
mild degenerative joint disease of the hands; back pain; mild
rectus diastasis of the abdomen; depressive disorder; and
anxiety disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
(TR 33). In his earlier opinion of January 6, 2012, the Law
Judge had attributed the onset of Mr. Waldron's closed
period of disability on February 9, 2006 to exacerbation of
plaintiff s symptoms of hepatitis C. (TR 181-83). However, as
to the earlier period between September 1, 2004 through
February 8, 2006, the Law Judge noted that Mr. Waldron was
not undergoing treatment or actively pursuing treatment for
hepatitis C on a consistent basis. (TR 39). As for plaintiffs
emotional limitations, the Law Judge gave no weight to the
opinion of a treating psychiatrist that Mr. Waldron had
experienced significant limitations since 2004, inasmuch as
that psychiatrist had not first examined Mr. Waldron June of
2008. (TR 47). As to the earlier period, the Law Judge
assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity as follows:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that, from September 1, 2004 through
February 8, 2006, the claimant had the residual functional
capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) with additional nonexertional
limitations. He could not constantly reach or finger. He
could perform only occasional stooping, crouching, balancing,
kneeling, crawling, and climbing of ramps and stairs, and no
work that required working around hazardous machinery, at
unprotected heights, or climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds.
The claimant is further limited to the performance of short,
simple instructions in a routine work setting that involves
only routine changes, occasional interaction with coworkers,
and occasional public interaction.
the period beginning on February 19, 2009, the Law Judge
found that Mr. Waldron has experienced essentially the same
physical and emotional impairments, though with less
prominent hepatitis C symptoms. The Law Judge summarized
plaintiffs physical problems during this later period as
Beginning February 19, 2009, the claimant has had the
following severe impairments: history of a Boxer's
fracture to the right hand; mild osteoarthritis of the right
wrist; vitamin B12 deficiency; a history of hepatitis C
infection; mild degenerative joint disease of the hands and
feet; low back pain; mild rectus diastasis of the abdomen;
history of a fracture of the left humerus; obesity; a
depressive disorder; and an anxiety/panic disorder.
(TR 48). The Law Judge stated that plaintiffs hepatitis C has
been "cured." (TR 55). Regarding plaintiffs
emotional problems, the Law Judge recognized that Mr. Waldron
has not continued with his treating psychiatrist because of
transportation problems. (TR 51). As to the period of time
beginning on February 19, 2009, and extending through the
date of his ...