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Beckner v. Berryhill

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

January 31, 2017

JOHNNY E. BECKNER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] 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 claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits under the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423, and 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq., respectively. Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). As reflected by the memoranda and argument submitted by the parties, the issues now before the court are whether the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence, or whether there is "good cause" to necessitate remanding the case to the Commissioner for further consideration. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         The plaintiff, Johnny E. Beckner, was born on January 11, 1961, and eventually completed the eighth grade in school. Later in life, Mr. Beckner earned a GED. Plaintiff worked for many years for a paving company, as a crew leader, heavy equipment operator, and foreman. He last worked on a regular and sustained basis in 2007. On February 17, 2012, Mr. Beckner filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. On April 3, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits. Earlier applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits had proven unsuccessful. In filing his second and current set of claims, Mr. Beckner alleged that he became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment on April 27, 2010, due to heart problems, chest pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diverticulitis, depression, neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, bilateral shoulder pain, tremors in hands, and anxiety. Mr. Beckner now maintains that he has remained disabled to the present time. As to his application for disability insurance benefits, the record reveals that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through the second quarter of 2012, but not thereafter. See gen., 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423(a). Consequently, Mr. Beckner is entitled to disability insurance benefits only if he has established that he became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment on or before June 30, 2012. See gen,, 42 U.S.C. § 423(a).

         Mr. Beckner's claims were denied upon initial consideration and reconsideration. He then requested and received a de novo hearing and review before an Administrative Law Judge. In an opinion dated April 20, 2015, the Law Judge also determined that plaintiff is not disabled. The Law Judge found that Mr. Beckner suffers from several severe impairments, including coronary artery disease, status post stenting; asthma; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; peripheral neuropathy; and bipolar mood disorder. (TR 55). Given such a combination of impairments, the Law Judge ruled that Mr. Beckner is disabled for his past relevant work at the paving company. However, the Law Judge determined that plaintiff retains sufficient functional capacity to perform a limited range of light exertion. The Law Judge assessed Mr. Beckner's 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 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), in that he is able to lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; sit, stand, or walk about 6 hours each during an 8-hour workday; but is limited to no more than occasional overhead reaching; no ladder/rope/scaffold climbing; and performing other postural activities, such as bending and stooping, on an occasional basis. The claimant also must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, like unprotected heights or dangerous moving machinery, as well as temperature extremes, fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poor ventilation, and he is limited to no frequent foot controls. Any work should involve no significant public contact.

(TR 60). 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 Mr. Beckner retains sufficient functional capacity to perform several specific light work roles existing in significant number in the national economy. (TR 75-76). Accordingly, the Law Judge ultimately concluded that Mr. Beckner is not disabled, and that he is not entitled to benefits under either federal program. (TR 76). See gen., 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g).

         Mr. Beckner appealed the Law Judge's decision to the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. Shortly after he filed his appeal, plaintiff submitted a number of new medical reports documenting treating for his physical symptoms, and establishing a new, neurological diagnosis. However, the Appeals Council eventually adopted the Law Judge's opinion as the final decision of the Commissioner. Having now exhausted all available administrative remedies, Mr. Beckner has appealed to this court.

         While plaintiff may be disabled for certain forms of employment, the crucial factual determination is whether plaintiff is disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2) and 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 of this case, the court must conclude that there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's denial of plaintiff s claim for disability insurance benefits. Mr. Beckner has a history of treatment for chest pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, musculoskeletal complaints, and bipolar disorder. Plaintiff has a history of myocardial infarction, and has undergone stent placement to relieve coronary artery disease. Mr. Beckner has a history of musculoskeletal complaints, though there was no objective evidence of mechanical defect during the period in which he enjoyed insured status. As for his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ventilatory studies have produced unremarkable results. Although plaintiff s doctors have treated him for anxiety, stress, and bipolar symptoms, Mr. Beckner has not received regular treatment from a mental health specialist. His doctors consider his emotional symptoms to be largely controlled through pharmaceutical means.

         The court believes that the Commissioner reasonably relied on a consultative report from Dr. William C. Humphries in concluding that Mr. Beckner retained the capacity to perform light exertional activity, at least during the period in which he still enjoyed insured status. Dr. Humphries examined plaintiff on July 18, 2013. Dr. Humphries noted that plaintiff experienced two myocardial infarctions in 2007, and that he continues to experience occasional chest pain relieved with nitroglycerin. (TR 781). Dr. Humphries reported that plaintiffs breathing problems are also controlled with medication. (TR 781). The consultant confirmed a history of musculoskeletal pain, especially in the neck and low back. (TR 781). Dr. Humphries noted mild limitation of motion in the shoulders and ankles. Dr. Humphries listed Mr. Beckner's diagnoses as follows:

1. Obesity.
2. Chronic cervicothoracic lumbar strain.
3. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease mild.
4. Coronary artery disease by history status post myocardial with ...

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