United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Honorable 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). This court's review is limited to a determination
as to whether there is substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's conclusion that plaintiff failed to meet
the requirements for entitlement to benefits under the Act.
If such substantial evidence exists, the final decision of
the Commissioner must be affirmed. Laws v.
Celebrezze. 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966). 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).
plaintiff, Edna Ruth Marshall Grubb, was born on December 4,
1958. Mrs. Grubb obtained a GED. Plaintiff has worked in a
number of jobs, including truck driver, cashier, sewing
machine operator, and furniture assembler. She last worked on
a regular basis in 2010. On March 29, 2012, Mrs. Grubb 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 17, 2007,
due to degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, back
problems, and vision problems. At the time of the
administrative hearing, Mrs. Grubb amended her application so
as to reflect an alleged disability onset date of December 8,
2010. (TR 34). Plaintiff now maintains that she has remained
disabled to the present time. The record reveals that Mrs.
Grubb met the insured status requirements of the Act through
the fourth quarter of 2012, but not thereafter. See
generally 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423(a).
Consequently, plaintiff is entitled to a period of disability
and disability insurance benefits only if she has established
that she became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful
employment on or before December 31, 2012. See 42 U.S.C.
Grubb's application 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 June 6, 2014, the Law Judge also
determined that Mrs. Grubb was not disabled. The Law Judge
found that, prior to termination of insured status, plaintiff
suffered from several impairments, including degenerative
disc disease of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine;
moderate obesity; and left shoulder bursitis. (TR 14).
Because of these impairments, the Law Judge ruled that
plaintiff was limited to light work activity at the time of
her alleged disability onset, and through the date last
insured. (TR 15). The Law Judge assessed Mrs. Grubb's
residual functional capacity as follows:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that, through I the date last insured, the
claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform;
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b); involving no
more than occasional I postural movements such as stoop,
crouch, climb, or kneel; no more than occasional overhead
reaching; and other reaching, fingering, and handling i
frequently but not constant.
(TR 15). Given such a residual functional capacity, the Law
Judge found that plaintiff was j disabled for her prior work
activity as a truck driver. However, the Law Judge determined
that Mrs. Grubb could have worked as a cashier and knitter at
all relevant times prior to the termination of insured
status. (TR 24). Based on these findings, and after
considering plaintiffs age, education, and prior work
experience, as well as testimony from a vocational expert,
the Law Judge held that plaintiff retained sufficient
functional capacity to work in several cashier and knitter
positions at all relevant times prior to the termination of
insured status. (TR 24). Accordingly, the Law Judge
ultimately concluded that Mrs. Grubb was not disabled, and
that she is not entitled to a period of disability or
disability insurance benefits. (TR 24). See
generally 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). The Law
Judge's opinion was eventually adopted as the final
decision of the Commissioner by the Social Security
Administration's Appeals Council. Having exhausted all
available administrative remedies, Mrs. Grubb 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 j 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 Cir. 1962).
review of the record in this case, the court is constrained
to conclude that the1 Commissioner's final decision is
supported by substantial evidence. During the relevant period
from the date of alleged disability onset through the
termination of her insured status, plaintiff suffered from
degenerative disease process throughout her back and neck.
She also suffered from obesity, and bursitis in her left
shoulder. The Administrative Law Judge relied on reports from
state agency physicians in determining that plaintiffs
musculoskeletal problems were not so: severe as to prevent
performance of lighter forms of work activity. (TR 23). The
Law Judge also cited physical findings made following a
consultative medical examination. (TR 19-20). More
importantly, the Law Judge relied on reports from treating
physicians, including Dr. John W. Carmody, an orthopaedic
surgeon, and Dr. Rollin J. Hawley, a neurologist. Based on
examinations completed in 2010, both Dr. Carmody and Dr.
Hawley opined that plaintiff could no longer engage in the
physical activity required in her prior work role as a truck
driver. However, both Dr. Carmody and Dr. Hawley considered
Mrs. Grubb capable of performing less strenuous forms of
activity. In making their assessments, both medical
specialists relied on their own; clinical examinations as
well as results from an MRI study in October of 2010. The
Administrative Law Judge considered the reports from both
specialists in some detail.
Carmody treated Mrs. Grubb over a period of several years.
Dr. Carmody referred Mrs. Grubb to Dr. Hawley for a
neurological consultation. On November 29, 2010, Dr. Hawley
wrote to Dr. Carmody:
I agree that your 10/12/10 lumbar MRI scan, showing
relatively mild bulges in the lower lumbar spine, with
relatively mild canal neural foraminal encroachment at;
multiple levels, as well as a degenerative disk disease and
facet degenerative changes, does not indicate surgery. If the
simple measures above do not help her, we might try to give
her medications for neuropathic pain, such as sedating
tricyclic antidepressants like Elavil or Pamelor at bedtime.
I had given her Elavil ' in the past with good
effect. Unfortunately, it, or anticonvulsant such as
Gabapentin 3X a day, can be associated with weight gain.
Another possibility might be to give her Topamax or
Topiramate twice a day, hoping to not only decrease her
neuropathic pain, but also her appetite and weight, with many
health benefits. She does not have a history of kidney
stones; would have to drink a lot of water, but not much
caffeine, to avoid kidney stones on Topamax.
I agree that Mrs. Marshall/Grubb cannot really work as a
truck driver again, because of her Lumbar Radiculopathy;
although, fortunately, she has some experience in Human
Resources work at Mt. Rogers. I hope that her Worker's
Compensation Insurer and Vocational Rehabilitation might help
her retrain to allow her to return to this work, or some
other work which she enjoys and is capable of performing. I
did not give Mrs. Marshall/Grubb a return appointment, but I
would be glad to see her again if this would be helpful.
Thank you for allowing me to see this lovely, pleasant, and
In a report dated February 11, 2011, Dr. Carmody assessed
plaintiffs status as follows:
Due to this it is not clear to me that she can engage in the
performance of her normal duties as a long distance truck
driver of up to 16 hours per day without risk. I believe she
may be able to do less strenuous work of shorter time
durations but she would most likely have difficulty with the
demand stated in her current job description as a long
distance driver working up to 16 hours per day. In the future
she may require an ongoing therapy program to maintain
flexibility and strength, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
medications as indicated and tolerated by the patient, and
modification of work load to a level she can sustain. At this
time it does not appear that surgery would be of benefit but
degenerative disc disease is a progressive condition and in
her condition particulary [sic] the cervical disc disease may
increase such that it will ...