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Gibson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division

February 28, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant



         I. Background and Standard of Review

         Plaintiff, Daniel L. Gibson, (“Gibson”), filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, (“Commissioner”), denying his claims for disability insurance benefits, (“DIB”), and supplemental security income, (“SSI”), under the Social Security Act, as amended, (“Act”), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 423 and 1381 et seq. (West 2011 & West 2012). Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). This case is before the undersigned magistrate judge upon transfer by consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). Neither party has requested oral argument; therefore, this case 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 Gibson protectively filed his applications for DIB and SSI on August 13, 2007, alleging disability as of October 1, 2010, [2] due to back and hip pain, depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, memory problems and constant worrying. (Record, (“R.”), at 99-103, 123, 131, 160, 183.) The claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. at 49-52, 54-56, 61-63, 65-69, 71-72.) Gibson then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, (“ALJ”), (R. at 73), and a hearing was held on May 19, 2009. (R. at 20-48.) By decision dated June 29, 2009, the ALJ denied Gibson's claims. (R. at 10-19.) Gibson appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review. (R. at 1-5.) Gibson then sought judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying benefits. (R. at 6, 465.) On March 28, 2011, this court vacated the Commissioner's decision and remanded Gibson's claims for further development. (R. at 464-81.)

         On remand, additional hearings before an ALJ were held on November 15, 2011, and November 15, 2012, at both of which Gibson was represented by counsel. (R. at 420-35, 436-63.) On November 30, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Gibson's claims. (R. at 564-95.) Gibson appealed this ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, and the Appeals Council remanded his claims. (R. at 603-08.) On remand, an additional hearing before an ALJ was held on December 5, 2013. (R. at 389-419.)

         By decision dated January 21, 2014, the ALJ denied Gibson's claims. (R. at 360-79.) The ALJ found that Gibson met the nondisability insured status requirements of the Act for DIB purposes through December 31, 2012. (R. at 363.) The ALJ found that Gibson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2010, the alleged onset date.[3] (R. at 363.) The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that Gibson had severe impairments, namely degenerative disc disease, status-post lumbar discectomy in 2005; congenital short right leg; club foot; adjustment disorder with depression/dysthymia; social anxiety; borderline to low average intelligence and cannibus abuse, but he found that Gibson did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 363-66.) The ALJ found that Gibson had the residual functional to perform simple, routine, repetitive sedentary work[4] that did not require him to stand or walk for more than four hours or sit for more than six hours in an eight-hour workday; that required no more than occasional climbing of ramps or stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching or crawling; that did not require concentrated exposure to hazards, moving machinery or heights; and that required no more than occasional interaction with the public. (R. at 366-77.) The ALJ found that Gibson was unable to perform his past relevant work. (R. at 377.) Based on Gibson's age, education, work history and residual functional capacity and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that a significant number of other jobs existed in the national economy that Gibson could perform, including jobs as a label pinker/cutter, an ampoule sealer and a printed circuit board touch-up screener. (R. at 378-79.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Johnson was not under a disability as defined by the Act, and was not eligible for DIB or SSI benefits. (R. at 379.) See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g) (2016).

         After the ALJ issued his decision, Gibson pursued his administrative appeals, (R. at 351-55), but the Appeals Council denied his request for review. (R. at 347-50.) Gibson 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, 416.1481 (2016). This case is before this court on Gibson's motion for summary judgment filed June 13, 2016, and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment filed August 16, 2016.

         II. Facts

         Gibson was born in 1965, (R. at 99, 101), which classified him as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c) at the time of the ALJ's decision.

         Charles Holland, Ph.D., a psychological expert, testified at Gibson's November 2012 hearing. (R. at 424-33.) Holland testified that his review of Gibson's medical records showed that he had undergone four psychological evaluations by Robert S. Spangler. (R. at 427.) In the first two of these evaluations, Holland said Gibson was diagnosed as suffering from “minor depression. (R. at 427.) Holland said at these evaluations Gibson's Global Assessment of Functioning, (“GAF”), [5] scores were moderate “at worst.” (R. at 427.) Holland said that at the third evaluation, Spangler diagnosed Gibson with a dysthymic disorder and a social anxiety disorder. (R. at 427.) Holland said, however, that there was no evidence in Spangler's report that Gibson suffered from a social anxiety disorder. (R. at 428.) In fact, he said that he found no evidence in the medical records of Gibson suffering from an anxiety disorder. (R. at 428.) Holland noted that Gibson was not prescribed any psychiatric medications until October 2012, when he was prescribed a low dose of Celexa. (R. at 428.) Holland noted, however, that the prescribing nurse practitioner had stated in Gibson's medical records that he did not suffer from anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations or plan. (R. at 428-29.)

         Holland testified that, based on his review of Gibson's records, Gibson would have a slight impairment with understanding and carrying out short, simple instructions, interacting appropriately with supervisors and co-workers and responding appropriately to changes in a routine work setting and a moderate impairment with carrying out detailed instructions, making judgments on simple work-related decisions, interacting appropriately with the public and responding appropriately to work pressure in a usual work setting. (R. at 432.) Holland defined a moderate impairment as one that imposes moderate limitations, but still allows an individual to function satisfactorily. (R. at 432.) Holland testified that limiting Gibson to simple, easy-to-learn, unskilled, repetitive work with minimal interaction with the public would take into account all of Gibson's mental work-related impairments. (R. at 433.)

         In rendering his decision, the ALJ reviewed records from Dr. Vijay Kumar, M.D.; Dr. Galileo Molina, M.D.; Dr. Ahgnes A. Bolusa-Sabugo, M.D.; Dr. Gregory Corradino, M.D.; Wellmont Health Systems; Mountain View Regional Medical Center; Dr. David Wiles, M.D.; Dr. Timothy McBride, M.D.; Wise Medical Group Health Care Associates; Dr. Robert McGuffin, M.D., a state agency physician; Dr. Frank M. Johnson, M.D., a state agency physician; Robert S. Spangler, Ed.D.; Dr. Brian Strain, M.D., a state agency physician; Dr. Michael Hartman, M.D., a state agency physician; Diane L. Whitehead, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist; Mary Elizabeth Ballard, M.A., a senior psychological examiner; and Wise County Behavioral Health.

         The medical records show that Gibson has been treated for back problems since as early as 2005. (R. at 202-30, 233-58, 266, 275-85, 289-91, 297, 829-44, 902-17, 953-66.) Since Gibson does not contest the ALJ's finding as to his physical residual functional capacity, those records will not be described further. Rather, the court will concentrate on the evidence contained in the record of any mental impairments.

         Medical reports from 2005 show that Gibson denied any psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety, memory loss or confusion. (R. at 212, 215.) Beginning in 2010, it appears that Gibson told his medical doctor on an initial visit that he suffered from, and was being treated for, depression, although there is no mention of the condition in his doctor's treatment notes. (R. at 902, 953-63.) On May 2 and July 2, 2012, he denied any problems with anxiety and depression. (R. at 984, 987.)

         On April 30, 2009, Robert S. Spangler, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, evaluated Gibson at the request of Gibson's attorney. (R. at 301-05.) Gibson had adequate recall of remote and recent events. (R. at 302.) He had good eye contact. (R. at 303.) His motor activity was calm, and his affect was appropriate. (R. at 303.) Gibson was cooperative, compliant and forthcoming. (R. at 303.) The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-IV, (“WAIS-IV”), test was administered, and Gibson obtained a full-scale IQ score of 80. (R. at 304.) The Wide Range Achievement Test - Fourth Edition, (“WRAT-4”), Blue Form was administered, indicating that Gibson read at the fourth-grade level. (R. at 304.) His arithmetic computation also was at the fourth-grade level. (R. at 304.) Spangler ...

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