United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
SYLVIA F. POINDEXTER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
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, Sylvia F. Poindexter, was born on January 2, 1966,
and eventually completed her high school education. Ms.
Poindexter has worked as a sewing machine operator and as a
specialist in window and door assembly. She last worked on a
regular basis in 2012. On July 24, 2012, plaintiff filed an
application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits. Ms. Poindexter alleged that she became
disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment on
March 16, 2012, due to a torn left Achilles tendon, high
blood pressure, and arthritis. Plaintiff now maintains that
she has remained disabled to the present time. The record
reveals that Ms. Poindexter met the insured status
requirements of the Act at all relevant times covered by the
final decision of the Commissioner. See generally 42
U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423(a).
Poindexter'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 October 28,
2014, the Law Judge also determined that plaintiff is not
disabled. The Law Judge found that Ms. Poindexter suffers
from severe impairments caused by residuals of left Achilles
tendon tear with calcaneal spur and Haglund's deformity,
and associated pain, requiring two surgical procedures of the
left Achilles tendon, as well as high blood pressure. (TR
26). Because of these impairments, the Law Judge ruled that
Ms. Poindexter is disabled for her past relevant work role as
a window factory specialist. (TR 37). However, the Law Judge
determined that plaintiff retains sufficient functional
capacity for sedentary work activity. (TR 28). The Law Judge
assessed Ms. Poindexter's residual functional capacity as
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
unskilled sedentary work. The claimant can lift and carry 20
pounds occasionally and lift and carry 10 pounds frequently.
She can stand/walk 4 hours and sit about 6 hours with no real
ability to push/pull with the left lower extremity and with
the right upper extremity. She can occasionally climb ramps
and stairs, never ladders, and balance frequently. She can
occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl, and kneel. She would have
no significant manipulative, visual, or communicative
limitations and can, at best, perform unskilled work.
(TR 28). Given such a residual functional capacity, and after
considering plaintiffs age, education, and prior work
experience, as well as testimony from a vocational expert,
the Law Judge held that Ms. Poindexter retains sufficient
functional capacity to perform several specific sedentary
work roles existing in significant number in the national
economy. (TR 38). Accordingly, the Law Judge ultimately
concluded that Ms. Poindexter is not disabled, and that she
is not entitled to a period of disability or disability
insurance benefits. (TR 39). See generally 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(g). Ms. Poindexter sought review of the
adverse decision by the Social Security Administration's
Appeals Council. (TR 20). In connection with her request for
review, plaintiff submitted additional medical evidence. (TR
6). However, the Appeals Council ultimately adopted the Law
Judge's opinion as the final decision of the
Commissioner. (TR 1-4). Having exhausted all available
administrative remedies, Ms. Poindexter has now appealed to
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 Cir. 1962).
review of the record in this case, the court is constrained
to conclude that the Commissioner's final decision is
supported by substantial evidence. The medical record
confirms that plaintiffs most serious problem consists of
impairments of the left lower extremity. While she also
suffers from hypertension, the medical evidence suggests that
this condition has proven subject to reasonable
pharmaceutical control. Although Mrs. Poindexter also
experiences obesity and emotional problems, including panic
attacks, the court believes that the Administrative Law Judge
properly determined that these additional problems are not
severe in terms of functional impact. Nevertheless, Ms.
Poindexter's left lower extremity problems are
significant and greatly limit her capacity for exertional
activity. It seems that plaintiff tore her left Achilles
tendon in a work-related fall in March of 2012. She
eventually underwent a left Achilles tendon repair with
calcaneal ostectomy, which was performed on August 23, 2012.
The first surgical reports indicate that Ms. Poindexter made
a good recovery. However, she continued to experience pain in
her left ankle, and sought a second opinion from Dr. James
Chandler on May 20, 2013. Dr. Chandler noted a significantly
antalgic gait. He prescribed conservative treatment for the
Achilles complaints. When Ms. Poindexter continued to note
pain, Dr. Chandler performed a second Achilles tendon repair
on August 26, 2013. Following the second procedure, Ms.
Poindexter still complained of pain in the left lower
extremity, with swelling. Her doctors attribute her
continuing pain to her antalgic gait. Dr. Chandler has
recommended that Ms. Poindexter avoid prolonged standing, and
that she elevate her left lower extremity and apply ice
several times per day in order to control her swelling.
question, Ms. Poindexter's left lower extremity problems
render her disabled for her past relevant work as a window
specialist. However, the court believes that the
Administrative Law Judge reasonably determined that
plaintiffs physical problems are not so severe as to prevent
performance of sedentary levels of work which do not involve
use of the left lower extremity. As to plaintiffs need to
elevate her left lower extremity and apply ice, the
Administrative Law Judge pointed out that her treating
physicians have not suggested that Ms. Poindexter is disabled
for all forms of work. (TR 36). The Law Judge specifically
relied on Dr. Chandler's report in finding that plaintiff
can reasonably accommodate her need to elevate her left leg
and apply ice while at the same time maintaining a regular
job. (TR 37). When presented with a hypothetical question
setting forth residual functional capacity for a limited
range of sedentary exertion, the vocational expert identified
several specific work roles in which Ms. Poindexter could be
expected to perform. The court finds that the vocational
expert's consideration of the record, and the
hypothetical questions under which the expert deliberated,
are both reasonable and consistent with the evidence in
plaintiffs case. The court concludes that the Law Judge
reasonably relied on the vocational expert's testimony in
concluding that plaintiff retains sufficient functional
capacity for alternate work activities. It follows that the
Law Judge's opinion is supported by substantial evidence.
Thus, the court concludes the Commissioner's final
decision must be affirmed. Laws v. Celebrezze,
appeal to this court, Ms. Poindexter, through counsel, makes
several argument in support of her contention that the
Commissioner's final decision is not supported by
substantial evidence. Plaintiff maintains that the Law Judge
failed to give proper weight to reports from Dr. Chandler,
who performed the second surgery, regarding plaintiffs need
to elevate her left lower extremity and apply ice. It is true
that Dr. Chandler believes that plaintiff experiences
continuing problems with her left lower extremity, as
reflected in several, cryptic statements. In a letter
submitted to plaintiffs attorney on March 28, 2014, Dr.
Chandler submitted the following opinion:
Sylvia Poindexter has an [A]chilles problem that is expected
to prevent her from gainful employment for over a year with
anything involving standing or walking.
(TR 508). On August 26, 2014, Dr. Chandler commented as
Sylvia Poindexter has impairment of 13% lower extremity, 5%
whole person. She continues to have pain and swelling, need
for elevation and ice several times a day.
(TR 511). On December 17, 2014, in one of the medical
exhibits submitted to the Appeals Council, Dr. Chandler