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Long v. Berryhill

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

February 13, 2018

ASHLEY N. LONG, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ROBERT S. BALLOU UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Ashley N. Long (“Long”) filed this action challenging 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 disabled adult child benefits (“DACB”) under the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(d), 1381-1383f. Specifically, Long alleges that the ALJ erred by failing to give the opinions of her treating physicians controlling weight. I conclude that the ALJ erred when he declined to accord the opinions of Long's treating physicians controlling weight. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND GRANTING Long's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 15) and DENYING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 11).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's conclusion that Long failed to demonstrate that she 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 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).

         CLAIM HISTORY

         Long protectively filed for SSI and DACB on May 26, 2012, claiming that her disability began on August 24, 2009. R. 67. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 78-143. On May 1, 2015, ALJ Joseph T. Scruton held an administrative hearing to consider Long's disability claim. R. 35-66. Long was represented by an attorney at the hearing, which included testimony from Long and vocational expert Ashley Wells. Id.

         On July 28, 2015, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Long's claim under the familiar five-step process, [2] and denying Long's claim for disability. R. 13-26. The ALJ found that Long suffered from the severe impairments of: mild-to-moderate lumbar spine degenerative disease, fibromyalgia, 2014 onset of diabetes mellitus 2, hypertension, morbid obesity, history of mid- 2014 wrist sprain, asthma, and generalized osteoarthritis. R. 17. The ALJ further found that Long retained the RFC to perform a range of sedentary work, but she is restricted to occasionally or frequently lifting and/or carrying ten pounds; occasionally stooping, crouching, and balancing; never kneeling, climbing, or crawling; should avoid operation of foot controls; and should avoid even moderate exposure to pulmonary irritants. R. 22. The ALJ determined that Long could not return to her past relevant work as a babysitter, but that she could work at jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as assembler, weight tester, and cuff holder. R. 25. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Long was not disabled. Id.

         Long appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, but her request for review was subsequently denied. R. 1-3. This appeal followed.

         ANALYSIS

         Long argues that the ALJ erred by giving limited weight to the opinions of treating physicians Michael Camardi, M.D., and Joseph Lemmer, M.D., instead giving greater weight to Ericka Young, D.O., a consultative examiner. R. 23-24.

         Dr. Camardi stated in his medical opinion that Long can sit, stand, and/or walk less than two hours in an eight-hour workday, can never lift and carry anything over ten pounds, and will miss work more than four times every month. R. 628-29. Dr. Camardi explained that Long's pain would constantly interfere with her attention and concentration on the job. R. 628. Dr. Camardi stated that based on his treatment of Long and her history, the limitations related back to May 26, 2012-the date Long applied for Social Security benefits. R. 629. Dr. Camardi is Long's primary care physician and has been treating her since October 2014. R. 45. The ALJ accorded Dr. Camardi's opinion only “slight weight.” R. 23.

         Dr. Lemmer, who has treated Long since April 2013, rendered a similar opinion, stating that Long can sit, stand, and/or walk less than two hours in an eight-hour workday, can never lift and carry anything over fifty pounds, can rarely lift and carry anything over twenty pounds, and can occasionally lift and carry things weighing ten pounds or less. R. 626. Dr. Lemmer explained that Long has significant limitations in repetitive reaching, handling, and fingering, and she can only rarely twist, stoop, crouch, climb ladders, and climb stairs. Id. Dr. Lemmer stated that Long's pain would frequently interfere with her attention and concentration on the job, and he expected Long to miss work at least four times a month. R. 625-26. The ALJ accorded Dr. Lemmer's opinion only “slight” weight. R. 23.

         The ALJ gave significant weight to the functional assessment of Ericka Young, D.O., rendered in January 2010 regarding Long's previous claim for disability. R. 23. Dr. Young stated:

[Long] could stand or walk approximately six hours in an eight-hour workday. . . . There would be no restrictions on sitting. No. assistive devices would be needed or used. There would be no lifting or carrying limitations. There would be postural limitations with stooping and crouching due to pain in the ...

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