United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
SYLVIA M. LEWIS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
S. Ballou United States Magistrate Judge.
Sylvia M. Lewis (“Lewis”) filed this action
challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) finding her not
disabled and therefore ineligible for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act
(“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433.
Lewis's sole claim asserts that the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) improperly gave limited weight to
the opinions of her treating physician, Joseph Wombwell, M.D.
I find that the ALJ provided a sufficient explanation for the
limited weight given to Dr. Wombwell's opinion.
Accordingly, I DENY Lewis's request for relief and GRANT
the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No.
court limits its review to a determination of whether
substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's
conclusion that Lewis failed to demonstrate that she was
disabled under the Act. 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 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).
protectively applied for DIB on June 26, 2012, alleging that
her disability began on September 15, 2008 due to back
cancer, skin cancer, high blood pressure, joint disease of
knees and ankles, lower back problems and a cyst on her
ovaries. R. 39. The Commissioner denied the application at
both the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative
review. R. 39-60, 61- 82. On May 20, 2014, ALJ Marc Mates
held a hearing to consider Lewis's disability claim. R.
22-38. Lewis appeared at the hearing with her attorney, James
Bowman, and the hearing included testimony from vocational
expert Gerald Wells. R. 21-38.
26, 2014, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Lewis's
claim under the familiar five-step process and denied her
claim for benefits. R. 10-20. The ALJ found that Lewis was
insured at the time of the alleged disability onset and that
she suffered from the severe impairments of hypertension,
obstructive sleep apnea, degenerative joint disease of both
knees, and obesity. R. 10-13. The ALJ found that these
impairments, either individually or in combination, did not
meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 13-14. The
ALJ then concluded that Lewis retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light
work.Specifically, the ALJ found that Lewis was
limited to lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently, standing and walking for 4 hours in an 8
hour workday, and sitting for 6 hours in an 8 hour workday.
R. 14. The ALJ further concluded that Lewis could only
occasionally climb stairs, balance, kneel or crawl, and that
she must avoid exposure to hazards, wetness, and extreme
determined that Lewis would be unable to return to her past
relevant work as a sandwich maker, laborer, or picking line
worker, but that Lewis could perform jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy, such as
cafeteria cashier, gate guard, and routing clerk. R. 19-20.
The ALJ therefore concluded that Lewis was not disabled. R.
20. Lewis appealed the ALJ's decision and the Appeals
Council denied her request for review on November 2, 2015. R.
argues that the ALJ improperly discounted the medical opinion
of Dr. Wombwell, the orthopedic surgeon who served as her
treating physician from February 2010 to January 2014, during
which time he treated her on ten occasions. On January 24,
2014, Dr. Wombwell completed a checkbox Medical Source
Statement describing Lewis's prognosis as
“poor.” R. 571-74. Specifically, Dr. Wombwell
found that Lewis “may require knee replacements,
” that she is unable to stand or walk during an 8 hour
workday, that she can only occasionally lift 5-10 pounds, and
that she is entirely unable to bend, squat, crawl, or climb.
state agency physicians who reviewed Lewis's medical
history and records in 2012 determined that Lewis could stand
for 4 hours each day, occasionally bend and squat, and
occasionally lift or carry up to 20 pounds. R. 55, 77. The
ALJ relied upon the opinions of Dr. Wombwell and the state
agency physicians to develop Lewis's RFC, giving only
“limited weight” to the findings of Dr. Wombwell,
but “significant weight to the assessments of the State
agency consultants.” R. 17-18.
Dr. Wombwell's opinion, the ALJ wrote:
The undersigned gives limited weight to Dr. Wombwell's
assessments, as the limitations noted above are overly
restrictive and inconsistent with and unsupported by the
objective findings noted throughout the medical evidence of
record, which indicate that the claimant has no instability
of knee joints, her treatment has been limited to medication
and injections as needed, she has 5/5 strength throughout her
extremities, and she has nearly full extension of her knees.
Additionally, as recently as May 2014, the claimant's
primary care practitioner advised her to do activity as
Id. The ALJ further credited the opinions of the
state agency medical consultants because they were
“consistent with and supported by the evidence of