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King v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

September 2, 2016

LATISHA M. KING, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Ivan D. Davis United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment (Dkt. Nos. 16, 18). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Latisha M. King ("Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that Defendant's decision is supported by substantial evidence, and that there is no evidence warranting remand. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment.


         Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on March 7, 2011, alleging disability since January 1, 2001, due to ventricular septal defect, uterine fibroid, aortic stenosis, bicuspid valve, enlarged heart, dizzy spells, palpitations, endometriosis, migraine headaches, and anxiety. (Administrative Record ("R.") 175, 179.) Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Act ("date last insured") on September 30, 2007. (Id. at 165.) Plaintiffs initial claim was denied on August 10, 2011, and again upon reconsideration on January 20, 2012. (Id. at 90, 102.) Plaintiff requested a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on September 20, 2012. (Id. at 7.) ALJ Thomas Mercer Ray conducted a hearing on June 18, 2013. (Mat 26.)

         On July 10, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Id. at 12-14.) On October 7, 2014, the Appeals Council for the Office of Disability and Adjudication denied Plaintiffs request for review of the ALJ's decision, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Id. at 1-4.) Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the instant suit challenging the ALJ's decision on December 5, 2014. (Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff and Defendant filed cross-motions for summary judgment on May 2, 2016, and June 1, 2016, respectively, and this matter is ripe for disposition. (Dkt. Nos. 16, 18.)


         Plaintiff was born on February 9, 1976 and was 24 years old at her alleged onset date, January 1, 2001. (R. 162.) She has a high school education, one year of college, and a phlebotomy career studies certificate. (Id. 180.) She has previously worked as an administrative assistant, a call center clerk, and a phlebotomist. (Id. at 181.) She was laid off from her most recent full-time position in August 2001, when the telecommunications firm which employed her went bankrupt. (Id. at 211, 213.) From 2001 to 2010, she worked infrequently at a video store that she and her then-husband owned. (Id. at 213-15.) In a function report dated June 6, 2011, Plaintiff reported that she cared for her son, niece, and nephew but that she suffered pain when doing so and that other family members helped her. (Id. at 204.) Plaintiff reported that she also took care of her sister prior to her sister's death from cancer in 2010. (Id. at 202-03.) Plaintiff reported significant pain when caring for herself but stated that she prepared meals, cleaned, did laundry, and shopped for food and other household goods. (Id. at 204-06.) Plaintiff also reported that she took part in social activities and took her son to engage in social activities. (Id. at 207-08.) Plaintiff reported that her impairments affected her ability to squat, bend, stand, walk, sit, kneel, climb stairs, complete physical tasks, and concentrate. (Id. at 208.)

         A. Medical Evidence

         As a child, Plaintiff was diagnosed with congenital heart disease. (R. 793.) At age six, she had surgery to repair a patent ductus arteriosus. (Id.) She was followed by pediatric cardiology throughout her childhood. (Id.) Plaintiffs first visit to a cardiologist during the relevant period was a May 2001 appointment with Carey Marder, MD. (R. 767.) Plaintiff complained of heart palpitations and displayed a soft grade heart murmur, and Dr. Marder ordered heart monitoring for thirty days. (Id. at 767-69.)

         In January 2003, Plaintiff saw Pradeep Nayak, MD, and reported heart palpitations "from time to time." (Id. at 764-66.) An echocardiogram suggested that Plaintiff suffered from mild aortic stenosis, but the test was not conclusive. (Id.) Dr. Nayak ordered additional tests, and, after reviewing them, recommended regular follow-up visits. (Id. at 760.) At Plaintiffs next appointment, in July 2003, she was eight weeks pregnant and reported no symptoms other than nausea. (Id. at 761.) In October 2003, Plaintiff visited Dr. Nayak and reported fast heartbeats and mild sweating on exertion but no dizzy spells. (Id. at 756.) Dr. Nayak found that Plaintiffs cardiovascular functioning was normal except for her heart murmur and reported that Plaintiff suffered from mild to moderate aortic insufficiency. (Id. at 758.) Dr. Nayak did not note any problems with Plaintiffs back or extremities in any of these appointments. (See Id. at 758-66.)

         In a February 2004 appointment with Robert Shore, MD, Plaintiff reported increased palpitations and some chest discomfort. (Id. at 753-54.) Dr. Shore ordered a Holter monitor, which showed no sustained tachyarrhythmia. (Id. at 750.) At Plaintiffs follow-up two weeks later, Plaintiff reported no significant chest pain and no dizziness. (Id.) In March 2004, Plaintiff delivered a healthy child, and she followed up with Dr. Shore in May 2004. (Id. at 746.) She reported having no chest pain, no palpitations, and no heart failure symptoms. (Id. at 747.) Dr. Shore never noted any issue with Plaintiffs back or extremities. (Id. at 747-54.)

         In early 2006, Plaintiff received a preliminary diagnosis of subaortic membrane from Dr. Nayak. (Id. at 895.) At that time, Plaintiffs only symptoms were heart palpitations and lightheadedness, which improved with increased sodium consumption. (Id.) Dr. Nayak recommended a cardiac catheterization to confirm the diagnosis. (Id. at 896.) The catheterization showed that Plaintiff had a bicuspid aortic valve, not a subaortic membrane. (Id. at 880.) In April 2006, Dr. Nayak noted that Plaintiff continued to be asymptomatic, recommended that Plaintiff resume regular aerobic exercise, and informed Plaintiff that her risk for pregnancy was slightly higher than average but acceptable. (Id. at 880-81.)

         In March 2007, Dr. Nayak reported that Plaintiff was "doing very well" and was "quite active without difficulties, " though she reported "occasional brief palpitations." (Id. at 874.) In October 2007, the month after Plaintiffs date last insured, Plaintiff followed up with Dr. Nayak upon returning from a trip to Cambodia. (Id. at 725.) Plaintiff reported palpitations and occasional sweating and dizziness. (Id.) Dr. Nayak recommended additional testing, (Id. at 727), which revealed nothing of concern. (See Id. at 264, 872.) Also in October 2007, Dr. Nayak opined that Plaintiff could travel safely overseas to spend an extended amount of time in Cambodia. (Id.)

         Plaintiff continued to see Dr. Nayak after she returned from Cambodia in 2009. (Id. at 870-90.) From 2009 through 2011, Plaintiff reported her usual palpitations and occasional lightheadedness. (Id. at 866, 861, 856, 850.) Dr. Nayak also noted that Plaintiff was under a great deal of stress due to her 2009 separation from her husband and the 2010 death of her sister. (Id. at 866, 856.) In September 2010, Plaintiff reported that she had been feeling very well, (Id. at 856), and in April 2011, Dr. Nayak reported that Plaintiff was doing well physically but was under a lot of stress personally. (Id. at 850.) Dr. Nayak's notes from Plaintiffs April 2011 appointment also state that Plaintiff denied having a history of back problems. (Id.)

         Plaintiff also received treatment from gynecologist Karen R. Maser, MD, during the relevant period. (See Id. at 584-684.) Dr. Maser noted that Plaintiff suffered from dysmenorrhea, menorrhagia, and uterine fibroids. (Id. at 593.) However, it does not appear that Dr. Maser ever diagnosed Plaintiff with endometriosis. (See Id. at 584-684.) Dr. Maser referred Plaintiff to Salman Mufti, MD, for treatment of her uterine fibroids. (Id. at 316.) At her October 2009 appointment with Dr. Mufti, Plaintiff reported that she had no history of back pain or endometriosis. (Id. at 314.) It does not appear that Plaintiff ever received treatment for the uterine fibroids, possibly due to concerns about fertility. (See Id. at 316.)

         B. Opinion Evidence

         On September 14, 2012, Dr. Nayak completed a Clinical Assessment of Pain form and a Physical Capacities Evaluation form regarding Plaintiffs impairments. (R. 1397-39.) Dr. Nayak opined that Plaintiffs pain was present to such an extent as to be distracting to adequate performance of daily activities or work and that physical activity would greatly increase pain to such a degree as to cause distraction from or total abandonment of tasks. (Id. at 1397.) Dr. Nayak opined that the side effects of Plaintiff s prescribed medications would cause some limitations on Plaintiffs ability to perform work but not to such a degree as to create serious problems. (Id.) Dr.

         Nayak further opined that Plaintiff could lift or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; could sit, stand, or walk for a total of five hours in an eight hour workday; could rarely bend or stoop; and could occasionally push, pull, and climb stairs. (Id. at 1398.) Dr. Nayak opined that Plaintiff would miss more than four days of work per month due to her impairments. (Id.) As the basis for the restrictions, he listed severe back problems, frequent knee pain, and gynecological disorders. (Id.) ...

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