United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge.
has filed this action challenging the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiffs claim for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
under the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i) and 423. Jurisdiction of this court is
pursuant to § 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). As reflected by the memoranda and argument submitted
by the parties, the issues now before the court are whether
the Commissioner's final decision is supported by
substantial evidence, or whether there is "good
cause" as to necessitate remanding the case to the
Commissioner for further consideration. See 42 U.S.C. §
plaintiff, Pamla Darlene Foley, was born on December 22,
1959. Mrs. Foley completed the eleventh grade in school. She
has been employed as an assembly line worker, food service
worker, and warehouse worker. Apparently, she last worked on
a regular and sustained basis in 2009. On February 6, 2012,
Mrs. Foley filed an application for a period of disability
and disability insurance benefits. She alleged that she
became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful
employment on July 9, 2009 due to carpal tunnel; hemlock
disease; depression; knee and elbow pain; and sleep apnea.
Plaintiff now maintains that she has remained disabled to the
present time. The record reveals that Mrs. Foley met the
insured status requirements of the Act through the second
quarter of 2013, but not thereafter. See, gen, 42 U.S.C.
§416(i)and 423(a). Consequently, plaintiff is entitled
to disability insurance benefits only if she has established
that became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful
employment on or before June 30, 2013. See gen., 42
U.S.C. § 423(a).
Foley's application for benefits was denied upon initial
consideration and reconsideration. She then requested and
received a de novo hearing and review before an
Administrative Law Judge. In an opinion dated May 7, 2014,
the Law Judge also determined that plaintiff was not disabled
at any time prior to termination of insured status. The Law
Judge determined that Mrs. Foley suffered from several severe
impairments, including hypertension; carpal tunnel syndrome
(status post release on the left); asthma; and obesity.
(TR12). Despite such severe impairments, the Law Judge found
that plaintiff retained sufficient functional capacity to
perform a limited range of light and sedentary work
activities. The Law Judge assessed plaintiff s residual
functional capacity as follows:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the
residual functional capacity to perform less than a full
range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). She can
lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently.
She can stand and/or walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday
and sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. She can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds. She can frequently knee or crouch. She
can frequently use her left arm to reach. She should avoid
.concentrated exposure to unprotected heights, dangerous
equipment, dusts, chemicals, and fumes.
14). The Law Judge ruled that plaintiff was disabled for all
of her past relevant work roles. (TR 18). However, given Mrs.
Foley's residual functional capacity, and after
considering plaintiff s age, education, and prior work
experience, as well as testimony from a vocational expert,
the Law Judge found that, at all relevant times prior to the
termination of insured status, Mrs. Foley possessed the
capacity to perform several specific work roles existing in
significant number in the national economy. (TR 18).
Accordingly, the Law Judge ultimately concluded that Mrs.
Foley was not disabled, and that she is not entitled to a
period of disability or disability insurance benefits.
See. gen.. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).
The Law Judge's opinion was adopted as the final decision
of the Commissioner by the Social Security
Administration's Appeals Council. Having exhausted all
available administrative remedies, plaintiff has now appealed
to this court.
plaintiff may be disabled for certain forms of employment,
the crucial factual determination is whether plaintiff was
disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment. See
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). There are four elements of proof
which must be considered in making such an analysis. These
elements are summarized as follows: (1) objective medical
facts and clinical findings; (2) the opinions and conclusions
of treating physicians; (3) subjective evidence of physical
manifestations of impairments, as described through a
claimant's testimony; and (4) the claimant's
education, vocational history, residual skills, and age.
Vitek v. Finch. 438 F.2d 1157, 1159-60 (4th Cir.
1971); Underwood v. Ribicoff. 298 F.2d 850, 851 (4th
medical record confirms that Mrs. Foley suffers from poorly
controlled hypertension, asthma, obesity, and history of
carpal runnel syndrome, primarily in the left upper
extremity. While plaintiffs asthma necessitates avoidance of
respiratory irritants, plaintiffs most vocationally relevant
impairment consists of carpal tunnel/impaction syndrome and
related symptomatology. Mrs. Foley underwent surgery on her
left wrist on July 25, 2012. Based on the medical reports
developed thereafter, primarily from her surgeon, Dr. Cay
Mierisch, it seems that Mrs. Foley enjoyed a good surgical
result, and that she experienced improvement in her pain and
functional ability. (TR 461). Clearly, the medical evidence
supports the Commissioner's determination that Mrs. Foley
was not disabled following the surgical procedure.
difficulty in this case concerns the period prior to the
surgery. Mrs. Foley underwent a physical disability
evaluation by Dr. Sung-Joon Cho on June 4, 2011, several
weeks prior to the surgery. The Law Judge summarized Dr.
Cho's findings as follows:
Dr. Cho noted that the claimant had no limitations in
standing or sitting, and noted that she could lift 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He also opined that
she could reach frequently, and handle, finger, and feel
occasionally (Exhibit 3F). This assessment is generally
consistent and has been given significant weight, however,
the limitations in handling, fingering, and feeling are not
consistent with the record considering the claimant's
surgery after this exam.
In his functional assessment, Dr. Cho specifically stated
that, as to plaintiff's manipulative activities, he
"would limit handling, finger and feeling to
occasionally, reaching to frequently secondary to carpal
tunnel." (TR 277).
previously noted, given her finding of disability for past
relevant work, the Administrative Law Judge relied on
testimony from a vocational expert in assessing plaintiff s
capacity for alternate work activity. At the time of the
administrative hearing on March 27, 2014, the Law Judge
propounded the following hypothetical question to the
Assuming a hypothetical individual of the claimant's age,
education and past relevant experience. Who could lift and
carry no more than 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pound[s]
frequently; stand and walk no more than 6 hours in an 8 hour
day; sit no more than 6 hours in an 8 hour day. Would be
limited to the following: Occasional pushing and pulling with
the left hand, left upper extremity. Occasional climbing
stairs and ramps, crawling. Never climbing ladders,
scaffolds, ropes. Could frequently kneel and crouch. Could
frequently use her left arm in reaching. Would have to avoid
concentrated exposure to unprotected heights, dangerous
equipment, dust, gasses and fumes.
43). In response, the vocational expert testified that such a
person could do work as an assembler, packer, and
inspector/tester. (TR 44). However, when asked by plaintiff s
attorney to also assume that the hypothetical individual is
limited to occasional lingering and handling, the vocational