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Kidd v. Berryhill

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

February 12, 2018

TRACY DIANE KIDD, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Hon. Robert S. Ballou United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Tracy Diane Kidd (“Kidd”), proceeding pro se, challenges the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) determining that she was not disabled and therefore not eligible for supplemental security income (“SSI”) and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. Kidd asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by concluding that she did not have a physical impairment that rendered her disabled under the Act. Specifically, Kidd asserts that her condition following a T9 compression fracture prevents her from engaging in substantial gainful employment. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision in its entirety. Consequently, I RECOMMEND GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 17).[1]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's conclusion that Kidd failed to demonstrate that she was disabled under the Act.[2] 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).

         However, remand is appropriate if the ALJ's analysis is so deficient that it “frustrate[s] meaningful review.” Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th Cir. 2015) (noting that “remand is necessary” because the court is “left to guess [at] how the ALJ arrived at his conclusions”); see also Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d. 176, 189 (4th Cir. 2016) (emphasizing that the ALJ must “build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion” and holding that remand was appropriate when the ALJ failed to make “specific findings” about whether the claimant's limitations would cause him to experience his claimed symptoms during work and if so, how often) (citation omitted). In Mascio and Monroe, the court remanded because the ALJ failed to adequately explain how he arrived at conclusions regarding the claimant's RFC. Monroe, 826 F.3d. at 189; Mascio, 780 F.3d at 636.

         CLAIM HISTORY

         Kidd filed for SSI and DIB on November 15, 2012, claiming that her disability began on January 1, 2008, R. 197-207, but subsequently amending the onset date to August 15, 2011 at her administrative hearing. R. 38. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 83-99, 103-24. On June 9, 2015, ALJ Brian B. Rippel held an administrative hearing to consider Kidd's disability claim. R. 34-82. Kidd was represented by an attorney at the hearing, which included testimony from vocational expert Jeannie Deal. Id.

         On June 29, 2015, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Kidd's claim under the familiar five-step process[3] and denying her claim for benefits. R. 11-26. The ALJ found that Kidd suffered from the severe impairment of status post T9 compression fracture. R. 14. The ALJ found that this impairment did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 14-15. The ALJ further found that Kidd retained the RFC to perform light work and can frequently climb ramps and stairs and occasionally balance, stoop, and crouch. R. 15. However, the ALJ found that Kidd can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and should have only occasional exposure to workplace hazards, such as unprotected heights and moving machinery. Id.

         The ALJ determined that Kidd could return to her past work as an “inspector/hand packer, production line solder [sic], small product assembler, electronics worker as actually and generally performed, order picker as actually performed, and inserting machine operator as generally performed.” R. 24. The vocational expert testified that Kidd could perform other jobs that exist in the national economy such as laundry folder, cashier II, and mail clerk. R. 74. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Kidd was not disabled. R. 26. On June 29, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Kidd's request for review. R. 1-4. This appeal followed.[4]

         ANALYSIS

         Relevant Medical History

         Kidd suffered a T9 compression fracture when she was thrown from a barrel being towed by a four-wheeler at a company picnic on November 16, 2007. R. 336, 346. Kidd did not seek any medical treatment for her back injury until January 2008. Id. She was about eighteen weeks pregnant at that time and did not receive X-rays at her initial visit. Id.

         Kidd sought no other treatment for her back until July 2008 when she saw David S. Haga, M.D. R. 342. X-rays at that time showed “[n]o fractures or subluxation.” Id. Dr. Haga referred Kidd to orthopedist Sara Ashley McCowen, M.D., who prescribed physical therapy and a home exercise plan. R. 346-47. Kidd was not evaluated by a doctor again until March 2010, when Dr. Haga ordered an MRI, which showed a “subacute compression conformity” of the T9 vertebra, and “[m]ild degenerative disc disease . . . [with] no significant spinal stenosis or neural foraminal narrowing.” R. 341. Kidd returned to Dr. Haga in June 2010, who stated that the compression fracture in Kidd's T9 vertabra “should be completely healed now.” R. 330. Dr. Haga recommended that Kidd resume physical therapy, but Kidd declined, stating that she was too busy. Id.

         From January 2011 to April 2012, Kidd saw Frank Garcia, M.D., four times. See R. 325- 29. During each examination, she had normal findings in her extremities and spine. Id. Dr. Garcia prescribed medication for pain, id., and reported that these medications gave her “fair relief.” R. 328. Although Kidd continued to complain of pain, Dr. McCowen described the T9 compression fracture as “asymptomatic” in April 2012, pointing out that Kidd could be experiencing residual muscle ...


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