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Diede v. Berryhill

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

April 17, 2017

SAMAURA J. DIEDE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. 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). This court's review is limited to a determination as to whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's conclusion that plaintiff failed to establish entitlement to benefits under the Act. If such substantial evidence exists, the final decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed. Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966). 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, Samaura J. Diede, was born on September 13, 1982, and eventually completed her high school education. Ms. Diede received additional education as a nursing assistant. Plaintiff has worked as a sales clerk in a clothing store, clerk in a pet store, restaurant cashier, waitress, telemarketer, cook, and nursing assistant. Ms. Diede worked sporadically up until 2012, though much of her employment did not constitute substantial gainful activity within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (TR 24). The Administrative Law Judge determined that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability onset date. (TR 24). On March 17, 2011, Ms. Diede filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. Sometime later, she filed an application for supplemental security income benefits. Earlier applications for social security benefits had proven unsuccessful. In filing her most recent claims, plaintiff alleged that she became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment on August 1, 2008 due to bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and dislocated hip. At the time of an administrative hearing on June 10, 2015, plaintiff amended her applications so as to reflect an alleged disability onset date of April 6, 2010. (TR 56). Ms. Diede now maintains that she has remained disabled to the present time. As to her application for disability insurance benefits, the record reveals that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through the second quarter of 2013, but not thereafter. See gen., 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423(a). Consequently, Ms. Diede is entitled to disability insurance benefits only if she has established that she became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment on or before June 30, 2013. See gen., 42 U.S.C. § 423(a).

         Ms. Diede's claims were 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 June 27, 2013, the Law Judge also determined that plaintiff is not disabled. On that occasion, the Law Judge determined that Ms. Diede retains sufficient functional capacity for a limited range of medium work activity. Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the Law Judge found that Ms. Diede retains sufficient functional capacity to perform several work roles existing in significant number in the national economy. Accordingly, the Law Judge denied plaintiffs claims for benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g). Ms. Diede then sought review of the Law Judge's adverse decision by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council.

         By order entered August 14, 2014, the Appeals Council remanded the case to the Law Judge for additional proceedings. The Appeals Council directed the Law Judge to give further consideration to plaintiffs residual functional capacity, and to pose more comprehensive hypothetical questions to a vocational expert. (TR 273-74).

         Following conduct of two supplemental administrative hearings, the Law Judge issued a second opinion on July 2, 2015. The Law Judge found that Ms. Diede suffers from several severe impairments, including degenerative disc disease; facet arthropathy; bipolar disorder; panic disorder; and history of polysubstance dependence. (TR 24). Because of these severe impairments, the Law Judge held that Ms. Diede is disabled for all of her past relevant work roles. (TR 38). However, the Law Judge determined that plaintiff retains sufficient functional capacity for a limited range of light work activity. (TR 27). The Law Judge assessed Ms.Diede's residual functional capacity as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) and she can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can sit, stand, and walk for six hours in an eight-hour day. She can frequently operate foot controls with the right lower extremity. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She should avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights, dangerous equipment, and vibrations. She is limited to simple, routine, unskilled jobs with no fast paced production or public interaction, and only occasional social interaction with coworkers and supervisors.

         (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 ruled that Ms. Diede retains sufficient functional capacity to perform several specific light work roles existing in significant number in the national economy. (TR 38-39). Accordingly, the Law Judge ultimately concluded that Ms. Diede is not disabled, and that she is not entitled to benefits under either federal program. (TR 40). See gen,, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g). The Law Judge's second opinibn was adopted as the final decision of the Commissioner by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. Having now exhausted all available administrative remedies, Ms. Diede 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 in this case, the court is constrained to conclude that the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence. The medical record in Ms.Diede's case is in conflict. Plaintiff has a history of multiple musculoskeletal complaints, especially involving her right hip and sciatic nerve. She has also experienced shoulder problems and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. One of plaintiff s treating internists, Dr. Raj Bharathan, has produced a medical assessment which indicates that Ms. Diede is totally disabled for all forms of sustained work activity, due to her combination of impairments, including musculoskeletal problems, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain syndrome. However, the court believes that the Administrative Law Judge reasonably relied on the findings of another treating physician, Dr. Trevar Chapmon, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, in concluding that plaintiffs physical problems are not so severe as to contribute to an overall disability.

         Following an examination on June 21, 2010, Dr. Chapmon reported as follows:

Right sided body pain, review of chart indicates this is an ongoing problem. Only finding is of obturator externus strain, which could be part of some of the pain, but could also be coincidental. It certainly would not explain pain on her entire right side of the body. She is also concerned about swelling in the right LE, and other pains I could not easily attribute to the MRI findings. I will get lumbar MRI, see if any other findings show up. I suggested to her that if the muscle strain is contributing to a sciatica type syndrome, considering nerve block or ESI may be good. She immediately explained that was out of the question because she knows to [sic] many people who had problems made worse by ESI. She asked about medications, I told her my goal is to try and find out what is causing the problems, she was quite sure the MRI already showed that, and asked why I would not provide a muscle relaxer and NSAID. I explained she was already on an NSAID that according to the phone note did not help, and again explained I cannot attribute her symptoms to any finding I would expect to have on MRI, and I do not think medications at this time are appropriate. She was quite frustrated with me.
Her chart has numerous entries for treatment of quite a variety of pains. I will do what I can to try and help find any potential problems that could be contributing, I am not optimistic that any amount of workup will reveal anything.

(TR 1033). The objective studies in Ms. Diede's case, including the lumbar MRI, have proven essentially unremarkable, other than for notation of mild degenerative disease process. In short, the court concludes that the Administrative Law Judge reasonably assessed the medical record in determining ...


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