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Miles v. Colvin

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

March 1, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Robert S. Ballou United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Tracy Owen Miles (“Miles”) filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) finding him not disabled and therefore ineligible for supplemental security income (“SSI”), and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. Miles alleges that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by (1) finding that his spine disorder did not meet a Listing; (2) failing to give adequate weight to the opinion of Chris Lentz, PA-C; and (3) improperly evaluating his pain and credibility. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision in all respects. Accordingly, I DENY Miles's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 14) and GRANT the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 16).


         This court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's conclusion that Miles failed to demonstrate that he was disabled under the Act.[1] Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal citations and alterations omitted). The final decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed where substantial evidence supports the decision. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).


         Miles filed for SSI and DIB on August 29, 2011, claiming that his disability began on October 7, 2010, due to stiff back and neck, extreme pain, numb hands and fingers, arthritis, tinnitus, migraines, short term memory loss, difficulty swallowing, and left knee weakness. R. 252, 254, 272. Miles's date last insured was December 31, 2015.[2] Thus, he must show that his disability began on or before December 31, 2015 and existed for twelve continuous months to receive DIB. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1)(A), (c)(1)(B), (d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.101(a), 404.131(a). The state agency denied Miles's applications at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 81-92, 93-104, 107-119, 121-133. On January 13, 2014, ALJ Joseph T. Scruton held a hearing to consider Miles's claims for DIB and SSI. R. 40-80. Miles had non-attorney representatives at the hearing, which included testimony from vocational expert Asheley Wells.[3]

         On March 7, 2014, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Miles's claims under the familiar five-step process[4] and denying his claim for benefits. R. 27-38. The ALJ found that Miles was insured at the time of the alleged disability onset and that he suffered from the severe impairments of lumber and cervical spine degenerative disc disease, history of inguinal hernia, situational anxiety/depression, and possible carpal tunnel syndrome. R. 29. The ALJ determined that these impairments, either individually or in combination did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 30. The ALJ concluded that Miles retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of light work.[5] R. 31. Specifically, the ALJ found that Miles can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, kneel, crawl, stoop, and crouch, can never climb ladders or scaffolds, must avoid unprotected heights and workplace hazards, and cannot engage in repetitive foot controls. Id. Further, Miles can occasionally reach overhead and frequently reach in other directions and handle and finger. Id. Miles is limited to short, simple, non-detailed instructions throughout an eight-hour day, and is able to interact appropriately with supervisors and others and respond to routine work changes. Id.

         The ALJ determined that Miles was not capable of performing his past relevant work as an electrician. R. 35. However, the ALJ found that Miles could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as cashier, cafeteria attendant, and assembler. R. 37. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Miles was not disabled. R. 37. Miles appealed the ALJ's decision and the Appeals Council denied his request for review on August 18, 2015. R. 1-4.


         Miles alleges that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to find that his spine disorder met or equaled Listing 1.02 and 1.04; (2) failing to give adequate weight to the opinion of PA Lentz; and (3) improperly evaluating his pain and credibility.

         A. Medical History

         As noted by the ALJ, Miles has received treatment for back and neck pain since his alleged onset date in October 2010, including trigger point injections, acupuncture, and prescription pain medication. R. 33. An MRI of his cervical spine in December 2013 showed spondylosis and disc disease, most pronounced at ¶ 5/C6 level, with some interval disc ossification. R. 502. An MRI of his lumbar spine on the same date showed mild spondylosis with disc bulges on T12/L1 and L4/L5 with mild to moderate biforaminal narrowing, as well as slight progression of the anterior listhesis at ¶ 4/L5. R. 505.

         Miles's primary care provider, PA Lentz, of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, provided a letter dated August 17, 2011 (“August 2011 Letter”). R. 296. The letter stated that Miles suffered increased back and neck pain following a motor vehicle collision in July 2004 and that he provides Miles with monthly trigger point injections. It further stated that “Mr. Miles has tried to maintain jobs but has not been able to due to his chronic pain. In my opinion he can no longer maintain gainful employment, and is totally/permanently disabled.” Id. PA Lentz also completed a Physical Limitations Assessment on January 25, 2012, indicating that Miles could perform light work, but that his medical condition caused significant pain resulting in interruption of activities and concentration, would require unpredictable and/or lengthy periods of rest during the day, and he would miss more than two days of work a month.[6] R. 403.

         State agency physician William Humphries, M.D. performed a consultative examination on December 23, 2011. R. 396-400. On examination, Dr. Humphries found Miles's range of motion in his neck and back mildly reduced and his joint range of motion in his upper and lower extremities generally within normal limits.[7] R. 398. Dr. Humphries diagnosed him with posttraumatic strain of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine with possible degenerative joint disease, recurrent headaches, mild degenerative joint disease of the left knee, and hypertension. R. 399. In his functional assessment, Dr. Humphries indicated that Miles was limited to sitting and standing/walking for six hours in an eight-hour workday, lifting 25 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, unlimited stooping and crouching, but only occasional climbing, no kneeling or crawling, and no repetitive left foot controls. R. 399.

         State agency physicians Joseph Duckwall, M.D., and Shirish Shahane, M.D., following a records review in January and May, 2012, also both indicated that Miles could perform a range of light work. R. 88-90, 100-02, 115-16, 129-30.

         B. Listing 1.04 and 1.02

         Miles argues that the ALJ should have found that he met the requirements of Listing 1.02 and 1.04.[8] R. 30. The Commissioner argues that the medical evidence fails to ...

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