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Collins v. Colvin

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

January 24, 2017

ROBIN COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad, Chief United States District Judge

         Plaintiff has filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiffs claim for supplemental security income benefits under the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et se£. Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), which incorporates § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). As reflected by the memoranda and argument submitted by the parties, the issues before this court are whether the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence, and if it is not, whether plaintiff has met the burden of proof as prescribed by and pursuant to the Act. 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).

         The plaintiff, Robin Collins, was born on March 28, 1992, and eventually completed her high school education. Ms. Collins also completed additional training as a nurse's assistant. She has been employed as a nurse's assistant, restaurant worker, and bus girl. She last worked on a regular and sustained basis in 2012. On July 16, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits. Ms. Collins alleged that she became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment on April 1, 2012, due to juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. (TR 211). She now maintains that she has remained disabled to the present time.

         Ms. Collins' claim 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 January 16, 2015, the Law Judge also determined that plaintiff is not disabled. The Law Judge found that Ms. Collins suffers from osteoarthrosis, (TR 25). Because of this condition, the Law Judge ruled that plaintiff is disabled for her past relevant work activity. (TR 31). However, the Law Judge determined that Ms. Collins retains sufficient functional capacity for a limited range of light work activity. (TR 27). The Law Judge assessed Ms. Collins' residual functional capacity as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except she can stand and/or walk for four hours in an eight-hour workday; can sit for four hours in an eight-hour workday; can occasionally push/pull with her left arm and leg; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally balance, kneel, crouch, and crawl; can frequently stoop; should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and heat, vibrations, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation; and should avoid hazards, including machinery and heights.

(TR 27). 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 found that Ms. Collins retains sufficient functional capacity to perform several specific light work roles existing in significant number in the national economy. (TR 32-33). Accordingly, the Law Judge ultimately concluded that Ms. Collins is not disabled, and that she is not entitled to a period of disability or supplemental security income benefits. (TR 33). See gen., 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(g). The Law Judge's opinion was adopted as the final decision of the Commissioner by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. (TR 1-4). Having exhausted all available administrative remedies, Ms. Collins has now appealed to this court.

         While 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. § 1382c(a). 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).

         After a review of the record in this case, the court is unable to conclude that the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence. While the Law Judge characterized plaintiffs severe impairment as osteoarthrosis, there is no question but that Ms. Collins suffers from juvenile onset rheumatoid arthritis with hidradenitis suppurativa. She also experiences depression and anxiety.[1] In concluding that plaintiff retains sufficient physical capacity for a limited range of light work activity, the Law Judge relied primarily on reports from nonexamining state agency physicians, and a disability evaluation from a physical therapist and occupational therapist. However, the medical record includes reports from three medical specialists who actually examined Ms. Collins, including Dr. Om Samantray, Dr. William C. Andrews, and Dr. Gregory Pudhorodsky. All three specialists determined that plaintiff is severely impaired, and unable to engage in regular work activity on a sustained basis. Given the administrative regulations, as well as the governing caselaw, the court is unable to conclude that the Law Judge's reliance on nonexamining medical sources, and the non-medical sources, is supported by substantial evidence. Based on the reports from the three medical specialists who actually examined Ms. Collins, the court is constrained to conclude that plaintiff has met the burden of proof in establishing that she is totally disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment.

         Dr. Om Samantray examined Ms. Collins on June 29, 2013, at the behest of the state disability agency. Dr. Samantray reported that plaintiff carries a history of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis associated with left hip pain for many years, and that she has been taking steroids for treatment of her condition. (TR 416). Dr. Samantray listed his impression and functional assessment as follows:

         IMPRESSION:

1. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis resolving and hip degeneration, left-sided with pain association in the lumbar region, and also right wrist pain. Patient's prognosis likely weakness secondary to pain on the left side. Credibility is good.

         FUNCTIONAL ASSESSMENT:

The number of hours the claimant can stand in an eight-hour workday is less than two hours. The number of hours the claimant can walk in an eight-hour workday is about two hours. The number of hours the claimant can sit is about 2 hours. ...

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