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Waldron v. Colvin

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

June 16, 2016

DAVID A. WALDRON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge

         Plaintiff 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).

         The 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.[1] 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.[2] See gen., 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423(a).

         Mr. 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.

         By 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).

         Following 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).

         Upon 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.

(TR 35-36).

         As to 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 follows:

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 ...


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