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Porter v. Colvin

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

December 2, 2016

MILDRED J. PORTER, 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, Mildred J. Porter, (“Porter”), 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 Porter protectively filed an application for DIB on January 14, 2009, alleging disability as of December 22, 2008, due to depression; anxiety; hypertension; chest pain; shortness of breath; and numbness in her arm and feet. (Record, (“R.”), at 175-76, 207, 211, 236, 568-70.) The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. at 96-98, 104, 106-08, 110-12.) Porter then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, (“ALJ”). (R. at 113.) A video hearing was held on January 10, 2012, at which Porter was represented by counsel. (R. at 32-76.)

         By decision dated February 17, 2012, the ALJ denied Porter's claim. (R. at 17-27.) The ALJ found that Porter met the nondisability insured status requirements of the Act for DIB purposes through December 31, 2008. (R. at 19.) This denial was appealed, and the Appeals Council denied Porter's request for review. (R. at 1-3, 173.) Porter then filed an action in this court seeking review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision.

         The undersigned entered a Report and Recommendation on April 10, 2014, in Case No. 1:13cv00015, recommending that Porter's claim be remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration. (R. at 480-99.) By Order entered April 29, 2014, U.S. District Judge James P. Jones remanded Porter's claim to the Commissioner based on his finding that the ALJ erred in determining Porter's date last insured. (R. at 478-79.) Thus, the Appeals Council vacated the final decision of the Commissioner and remanded the case to an ALJ for further consideration consistent with the order of the court. (R. at 502-04.)

         On remand, a hearing was held before an ALJ on December 19, 2014. (R. at 446-77.) By decision dated March 6, 2015, the ALJ again denied Porter's claim. (R. at 430-45.) The ALJ found that Porter met the nondisability insured status requirements of the Act for DIB purposes through June 30, 2010. (R. at 432.) The ALJ also found that Porter had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of December 22, 2008.[1] (R. at 432.) The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that Porter suffered from severe impairments, namely migraines, controlled with medications; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, (“COPD”); hypertension; insomnia; anxiety; panic disorder; depression; borderline intellectual functioning; amnestic disorder;[2] and pain disorder, but he found that Porter 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 433.) The ALJ found that Porter had the residual functional capacity to perform light work[3] that did not require more than occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling; that did not require concentrated exposure to respiratory and pulmonary irritants; that did not require more than one-to two-step tasks; that did not require interaction with the public; and that did not require more than occasional interaction with others, such as brief encounters of no more than one to three minutes at each encounter. (R. at 435.) The ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Porter was unable to perform her past relevant work. (R. at 443.) Based on Porter's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Porter could perform, including jobs as a night cleaner, an office helper and a mailroom clerk. (R. at 443-44.) Thus, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Porter was not under a disability as defined by the Act, and was not eligible for DIB benefits. (R. at 445.) See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g) (2015).

         After the ALJ issued his decision, Porter pursued her administrative appeals, (R. at 425-26), but the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (R. at 418-20.) Porter 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 Porter's motion for summary judgment filed February 16, 2016, and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment filed March 21, 2016.

         II. Facts[4]

         Porter was born in 1958, (R. at 35, 175), which, at the time of her date last insured, classified her as a “person closely approaching advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d). Porter has a seventh-grade education[5] and past work as a farmer and an owner-operator of a trucking company. (R. at 48.)

         Porter's daughter, Crystal Reedy, was present and testified at Porter's 2014 hearing. (R. at 457-68.) Reedy stated that she began helping with Porter's business in the last year of its existence. (R. at 458.) She stated that she helped Porter run the trucking business on her days off and after work, generally helping three to four days a week. (R. at 458-59.) Reedy stated that she helped with paperwork and dispatching, as well as accounts and employee issues. (R. at 459-61.) She stated that she helped with the business because her mother was having comprehension problems and because Porter had a dispute with an account holder. (R. at 460-61.) Reedy stated that Porter also was having problems with employees and account holders because she was easily frustrated and argumentative. (R. at 461-62.) She stated that Porter began becoming more aggressive toward her and other family members, stating that Porter's behavior progressively worsened. (R. at 465-66.)

         Vocational expert, Gerald Wells, also testified at Porter's hearing. (R. at 469-73.) Wells classified Porter's work as a small business owner as light and skilled. (R. at 470.) He classified Porter's work as a farmer as heavy[6] and skilled. (R. at 470.) Wells was asked to consider a hypothetical individual of Porter's age, education and work history who had the residual functional capacity to perform light work that did not require more than occasional climbing, stooping, kneeling, balancing and crouching; that did not require her to work around moderate to concentrated levels of pulmonary irritants; who would be able to understand, remember and carry out one- and two-step tasks; that did not require public interaction; and that did not require more than occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors and others in the work environment. (R. at 471-72.) Wells stated that such an individual could not perform Porter's past jobs, but that other jobs existed in significant numbers that such an individual could perform, including jobs as a night cleaner, an office helper and a mailroom clerk. (R. at 471-72.) When asked to consider the same individual who would be limited as indicated in the assessment completed by psychologist Teresa E. Jarrell, Wells stated that there would be no jobs available that such an individual could perform. (R. at 472-73.)

         In rendering his decision, the ALJ reviewed records from Russell County Public Schools; Julie Jennings, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist; Dr. Joseph Duckwall, M.D., a state agency physician; Coeburn Hospital Clinic, Inc.; Teresa E. Jarrell, M.A., a licensed psychologist; Patricia Buston, L.C.S.W., a licensed clinical ...


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