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Via v. Berryhill

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

August 30, 2017

TRISHA D. VIA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad United States District Judge

         Plaintiff has filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiffs claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423. Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to § 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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 meet the requirements for 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, Trisha D. Via, was born on May 12,1975, and eventually completed her high school education. Mrs. Via also completed one year in college. (TR 225). As found by the vocational expert who testified at the administrative hearing, plaintiff has worked as an insurance clerk, sock pairer, and customer order clerk. (TR 87-88). Mrs. Via last worked on a regular and sustained basis in 2005. On August 26,2015, plaintiff filed application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. The record suggests that multiple, earlier applications for such benefits had proven unsuccessful. In filing her most recent claim, plaintiff alleged that she became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment on June 1, 2005, due to psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, depression, and migraines. She now maintains that she has remained disabled to the present time. The record reveals that Mrs. Via met the insured status requirements of the Act through the fourth quarter of 2010, but not thereafter. See gen., 42 U.S.C. § 416(i) and 423(a). Consequently, plaintiff 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 December 31,2010. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a).

         Mrs. Via's most recent application was 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 August 10,2016, the Law Judge also determined that plaintiff was not disabled.

         The Law Judge found that Mrs. Via suffered from several severe impairments, including fibromyalgia, obesity, migraines, and degenerative disc disease. (TR 20). Because of her physical problems, the Law Judge held that plaintiff was disabled for all of her past work roles. (TR 33). However, the Law Judge ruled that Mrs. Via retained sufficient functional capacity for a limited range of light work at all relevant times prior to termination of insured status. The Law Judge assessed Mrs. Via's residual functional capacity as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with exceptions. The claimant could occasionally reach, handle, finger, and feel with her right upper extremity. She had to avoid more than occasional exposure to excessive noise and vibration.

(TR 23). Given such a residual functional capacity, and after considering plaintiff s age, education, and prior work experience, as well as testimony from a vocational expert, the Law Judge ruled that Mrs. Via retained sufficient functional capacity to perform several specific light work roles existing in significant number in the national economy. (TR 34-35). Accordingly, the Law Judge ultimately concluded that plaintiff was not disabled, and that she is not entitled to a period of disability or disability insurance benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(g). The Law Judge's opinion was adopted as the final decision of the Commissioner by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. Having exhausted all available administrative remedies, Mrs. Via has now appealed to this court.

         While plaintiff may be disabled for certain forms of employment, the crucial factual determination is whether plaintiff was disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment. See 42 U.S. C. § 423(d)(2). 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. Mrs. Via has a history of migraine headaches, as well as fibromyalgia. She experiences obesity. She also has a history of low back pain, which her doctors have attributed to degenerative disease process. At the administrative hearing, plaintiff testified that her pain radiates into multiple extremities. Several diagnostic studies completed prior to termination of insured status were not overly remarkable. She underwent a hip replacement in 2014. More recently, a treating physician, Dr. Garry Bayliss, has diagnosed psoriatic arthritis, though there is some reason to believe that plaintiff has been suffering from the symptoms of this condition for many years. In a note dated May 2,2016, Dr. Bayliss opined that plaintiff has been disabled due to psoriatic arthritis and fibromyalgia since "the onset of these problems." (TR 1017).

         The Administrative Law Judge determined that Mrs. Via was not disabled for lighter forms of work activity at any time prior to the termination of insured status. The Law Judge tracked plaintiffs extensive medical history, noting that several diagnostic studies and clinical evaluations have proven unremarkable. Indeed, several treating rheumatologists, both before and after termination of insured status, have attributed plaintiffs symptomatology to fibromyalgia, in the absence of physical findings of severe musculoskeletal abnormalities or defects.

         In denying plaintiffs claim, the Law Judge also relied on a consultative physical evaluation performed by Dr. William Humphries on September 21, 2012. Based on his review of Mrs. Via's medical history, as well as his own clinical findings, Dr. Humphries diagnosed obesity; fibromyalgia by history with multiple myalgias and arthralgias; recurrent headaches, probably migraine; diminished pulses in both lower extremities of unknown etiology; and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. (TR 928). Dr. Humphries assessed plaintiffs functional capacity as follows:

Based on objective findings of this evaluation, the examinee will be limited to sitting 6 hours in an 8 hour day, to standing and walking 6 hours in an 8 hour day, lifting 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She is limited to occasional climbing, kneeling, and crawling. There will be no restriction regarding stooping or crouching. She should avoid heights and hazards. There will be no fume restriction.

(TR928).

         In his opinion, the Law Judge also relied on medical interrogatories propounded to Dr. Leonard Rubin. Based on his record review, Dr. Rubin opined that Mrs. Via could have performed lighter forms of work ...


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