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Ring v. Colvin

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

November 18, 2016

SHERRY L. RING, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Pamela Meade Sargent United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Background and Standard of Review

         Plaintiff, Sherry L. Ring, (“Ring”), filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, (“Commissioner”), determining that she was not eligible for disability insurance benefits, (“DIB”), under the Social Security Act, as amended, (“Act”), 42 U.S.C.A. § 423 (West 2011). Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This case is before the undersigned magistrate judge by transfer based on consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). Oral argument has not been requested; therefore, the matter is ripe for decision.

         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 Ring protectively filed an application for DIB on October 26, 2011, alleging disability as of August 12, 2011, due to high blood pressure; fibromyalgia; sleep apnea; meningioma;[1] acid reflux; bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome; fatigue; joint pain; headaches; depression; and anxiety. (Record, (“R.”), at 170-71, 183, 187, 218, 227.) The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. at 75-77, 82, 85-87, 89-91.) Ring then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, (“ALJ”). (R. at 92.) A video hearing was held on January 13, 2014, at which Ring was represented by counsel. (R. at 27-47.)

         By decision dated February 7, 2014, the ALJ denied Ring's claim. (R. at 9-22.) The ALJ found that Ring met the nondisability insured status requirements of the Act for DIB purposes through March 31, 2015. (R. at 11.) The ALJ also found that Ring had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 12, 2011, her alleged onset date.[2] (R. at 11.) The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that Ring suffered from severe impairments, namely benign brain tumor; arthralgias, including foot pain and degenerative disc disease; carpal tunnel syndrome; obesity; depression; and anxiety, but he found that Ring did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed at or medically equal to one listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 11.) The ALJ found that Ring had the residual functional capacity to perform simple, routine, repetitive, unskilled light work[3] that did not require more than occasional kneeling, crawling, crouching, stooping, balancing or climbing ramps and stairs; and that did not expose her to hazards or climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds. (R. at 13-14.) The ALJ found that Ring was able to perform her past relevant work as a cashier and a cleaner. (R. at 20.) In addition, based on Ring's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Ring could perform, including jobs as a picker and a deli slicer. (R. at 21.) Thus, the ALJ found that Ring was not under a disability as defined by the Act, and was not eligible for DIB benefits. (R. at 22.) See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f), (g) (2015).

         After the ALJ issued his decision, Ring pursued her administrative appeals, (R. at 239-41), but the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (R. at 1-4.) Ring 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 (2015). The case is before this court on Ring's motion for summary judgment filed April 25, 2016, and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment filed May 26, 2016.

         II. Facts

         Ring was born in 1962, (R. at 170), which, at the time of the ALJ's decision, classified her as a “person closely approaching advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d). Ring has a tenth-grade education[4] and past work experience as a cashier and a cleaner. (R. at 32-33, 208, 233.) Ring testified that she did not take any prescribed pain medication. (R. at 31.) She stated that she did not get treatment for her foot pain, but was told to take ibuprofen. (R. at 31.) Ring stated that she cleaned only her son's house rather than many houses as indicated in one of her medical reports. (R. at 33-34.) She stated that she cleaned for her son a couple of hours twice a week. (R. at 39.) Ring stated that she spent most of her day watching television. (R. at 41.)

         Vocational expert, Gerald K. Wells, also testified at Ring's hearing. (R. at 43-46.) Wells classified Ring's work as a cashier and as a maid/cleaner as light and unskilled. (R. at 44-45.) Wells was asked to consider a hypothetical individual of Ring's age, education and work history who had the residual functional capacity to perform light work that did not require more than occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling; that did not require her to work around hazards, such as hazardous machinery, unprotected heights and climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds; and that, due to some concentration limits, education limits and past work history, she would be limited to unskilled work. (R. at 44.) Wells stated that such an individual could perform Ring's past work, as well as other jobs that existed in significant numbers, including jobs as a picker and a deli slicer. (R. at 44-45.)

         In rendering his decision, the ALJ reviewed records from Wise County Public Schools; Dr. Andrew Bockner, M.D., a state agency physician; Dr. Thomas M. Phillips, M.D., a state agency physician; Jeanne Buyck, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist; Dr. Joseph Duckwall, M.D., a state agency physician; Norton Community Hospital; Appalachia Family Health Center; Dr. Tarandeep Kaur, M.D.; Crystal Burke, L.C.S.W., a licensed clinical social worker; Frontier Health; University of Virginia Health System; Robert S. Spangler, Ed.D., a licensed psychologist; Dr. Jody Bentley, D.O.; and Dr. Kevin Blackwell, D.O.

         On October 4, 2010, Dr. Tarandeep Kaur, M.D., a physician at Appalachia Family Health Center, saw Ring for complaints that her blood pressure and blood sugar levels had been high. (R. at 291-93.) Ring was oriented, and her memory, mood, affect, judgment and insight were reported as normal. (R. at 292.) Dr. Kaur diagnosed hyperglycemia, rhonchi and hypertension. (R. at 293.) On November 15, 2010, Ring complained of chest pressure. (R. at 288-90.) Ring was oriented, and her memory, mood, affect, judgment and insight were reported as normal. (R. at 289.) An EKG was normal. (R. at 290.) Ring was diagnosed with hypertension, dyslipidemia, chest pressure and perimenopausal syndrome. (R. at 290.)

         On May 5, 2011, Crystal Burke, L.C.S.W., a licensed clinical social worker at Appalachia Family Health Center, saw Ring for complaints of stress and feeling overwhelmed. (R. at 284.) Ring reported that her spouse was disabled and very dependent on her and that her three adult children also were dependent on her. (R. at 284.) Burke reported that Ring was alert and oriented, her memory was intact, and her mood was depressed. (R. at 284.) Burke diagnosed depression, and noted that Ring had some dependencies in her personality. (R. at 284.) That same day, Dr. Kaur diagnosed Ring with hypertension, dyslipidemia, depression and gastroesophageal reflux disease, (“GERD”). (R. at 287.) He noted that Ring was oriented, and her memory, mood, affect, judgment and insight were normal. (R. at 334.)

         On October 4, 2011, Ring complained of generalized pain, headaches and numbness in her hands. (R. at 280-82.) Dr. Kaur reported that Ring was oriented, and her memory, mood, affect, judgment and insight were normal. (R. at 281.) She was diagnosed with dizziness, hypertension, cystocele[5] and dysphagia.[6] (R. at 282.) On October 17, 2011, an MRI of Ring's brain showed a mass lesion in the left parasellar region, which likely represented a meningioma. (R. at 294, 306.) On November 11, 2011, Ring complained of depression. (R. at 275-77.) She reported that her husband left her in October. (R. at 275.) Ring stated that she attempted to take Cymbalta, but that it made her dizzy and kept her from sleeping. (R. at 275.) Ring's memory, mood, affect, judgment and insight were normal. (R. at 276.) She was diagnosed with insomnia, depression, dyslipidemia and meningioma. (R. at 277.) On December 13, 2011, Ring complained of dizziness and headaches. (R. at 324.) Ring was oriented, and her memory, mood, affect, judgment and insight were normal. (R. at 325.)

         On February 22, 2012, Ring reported that her dizziness had improved, but she continued to complain of headaches. (R. at 321.) Ring was oriented, and her memory, mood, affect, judgment and insight were normal. (R. at 322.) Ring stated that she was not taking her medication; thus, Dr. Kaur recommended counseling for her depression. (R. at 321, 323.) On February 24, 2012, x-rays of Ring's thoracic spine showed mild S-shaped scoliosis and very nominal osteophytes at the mid-levels. (R. at 342.) That same day, x-rays of Ring's left knee showed minimal medial compartment narrowing. (R. at 342.) On July 10, 2012, Ring complained of pain in her feet, back and legs. (R. at 318.) Ring was oriented, and her memory, mood, affect, judgment and insight were normal. (R. at 319.) She was diagnosed with fatigue, multiple pains and hypertension. (R. at 320.) On November 7, 2012, Ring reported bilateral foot pain, neck, shoulder and elbow pain. (R. at 466-67.) ...


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