United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Meade Sargent United States Magistrate Judge
Background and Standard of Review
Linda Gale Hall, (“Hall”), filed this action
challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security, (“Commissioner”), denying her claim for
disability insurance benefits, (“DIB”), under the
Social Security Act, as amended, (“Act”), 42
U.S.C.A. § 423 et seq. (West 2011 & 2018
Supp.). Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Neither party has requested oral argument.
This case is before the undersigned magistrate judge by
referral pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). As
directed by the order of referral, the undersigned now
submits the following report and recommended disposition.
court's review in this case is limited to determining if
the factual findings of the Commissioner are supported by
substantial evidence and were reached through application of
the correct legal standards. See Coffman v. Bowen,
829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). Substantial
evidence has been defined as “evidence which a
reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a
particular conclusion. It consists of more than a mere
scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance.” Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d
640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). “‘If there
is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the
case before a jury, then there is “substantial
evidence.”'” Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting
Laws, 368 F.2d at 642).
record shows that Hall protectively filed her application for
DIB on June 19, 2013,  alleging disability as of September 21,
2012, based on osteoarthritis; herniated disc; carpal tunnel
syndrome; depression; fibromyalgia; and difficulty walking
due to swelling of her right foot. (Record,
(“R.”), at 42, 253-54, 272, 304.) The claim was
denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. at 171-73,
177-79, 182-85, 187-89.) Hall then requested a hearing before
an administrative law judge, (“ALJ”). (R. at
190-91.) The ALJ held a hearing on March 21, 2016, at which
Hall was represented by counsel. (R. at 86-115.)
decision dated August 23, 2016, the ALJ denied Hall's
claim. (R. at 42-59.) The ALJ found that Hall met the
nondisability insured status requirements of the Act for DIB
purposes through September 30, 2016. (R. at 45.) The ALJ
found that Hall had engaged in substantial gainful activity
during July 2014 through September 2014, but that there had
been a continuous 12-month period during which she did not
engage in substantial gainful activity. (R. at 45.) The ALJ
found that the medical evidence established that Hall had
severe impairments, namely cervical and lumbar degenerative
disc disease; carpal tunnel syndrome; chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease, (“COPD”); lung cancer;
arthritis; and right shoulder rotator cuff tear, but he found
that Hall did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R.
at 46-47.) The ALJ found that Hall had the residual
functional capacity to perform sedentary work that
required no more than occasional performance of postural
activities and overhead activities; that required no more
than frequent reaching, handling and fingering; that required
no more than occasional use of foot controls; and that did
not require her to work around pulmonary irritants. (R. at
49.) The ALJ found that Hall was unable to perform her past
relevant work. (R. at 58.) Based on Hall's age,
education, work history and residual functional capacity and
the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that a
significant number of other jobs existed in the national
economy that Hall could perform, including jobs as an
addressing clerk, a callout operator and a food checker. (R.
at 58-59.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Hall was not under a
disability as defined by the Act, and was not eligible for
DIB benefits. (R. at 59.) See 20 C.F.R. §
the ALJ issued his decision, Hall pursued her administrative
appeals, (R. at 251), but the Appeals Council denied her
request for review. (R. at 1-6.) Hall then filed this action
seeking review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision, which
now stands as the Commissioner's final decision.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981 (2018). This case is
before this court on Hall's motion for summary judgment
filed February 5, 2018, and the Commissioner's motion for
summary judgment filed March 7, 2018.
Facts & Analysis
was born in 1966, (R. at 89, 253), which classified her as a
“younger person” at the time of her alleged
disability onset date and at the time of the ALJ's 2016
decision under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c). As of the date
of the ALJ's decision, Hall was three months and five
days from qualifying as a “person closely approaching
advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d). Hall
testified that she had an eighth-grade
education and past work experience as a certified
nursing assistant, (“CNA”), and a companion. (R.
Hileman, a vocational expert, also was present and testified
at Hall's hearing. (R. at 106-14.) Hileman classified
Hall's past work as a CNA as medium and semi-skilled
and as a companion as light and semi-skilled. (R. at 106.)
Hileman was asked to consider a hypothetical individual of
Hall's age, education and work history, who could perform
light work that did not require more than occasional postural
activities; who should avoid pulmonary irritants; who could
occasionally perform overhead activities and use foot
controls; and who could frequently perform reaching, handling
and fingering. (R. at 106-07.) Hileman testified that such an
individual could perform Hall's past work as a companion,
but not as a CNA (R. at 107.) He also stated that the
individual could perform other work existing in significant
numbers in the national economy, including jobs as a marker,
a cafeteria attendant and a routing clerk. (R. at 107.)
Hileman next was asked to consider the same individual, but
who could perform sedentary work. (R. at 108.) Hileman
testified that this individual could not perform any of
Hall's past work, but could perform other work existing
in significant numbers in the national economy, including
jobs as an addressing clerk, a callout operator and a food
checker. (R. at 108.) Hileman stated that there were no
transferable skills from Hall's prior work to jobs at the
sedentary level. (R. at 108-09.) Next, Hileman was asked to
consider the hypothetical individual who was limited to
sedentary work, but who would be required to use a cane to
change positions two days a week. (R. at 109.) He testified
that such an individual could not perform any work. (R. at
109.) He stated that, if the cane was required for walking
only, there would be jobs in the light category that such an
individual could perform, including jobs as a cashier II, a
toll collector and a ticket taker. (R. at 110-11.)
Commissioner uses a five-step process in evaluating DIB
claims. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (2018).
See also Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-62
(1983); Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264-65
(4th Cir. 1981). This process requires the
Commissioner to consider, in order, whether a claimant 1) is
working; 2) has a severe impairment; 3) has an impairment
that meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment;
4) can return to her past relevant work; and 5) if not,
whether she can perform other work. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520. If the Commissioner finds conclusively that
a claimant is or is not disabled at any point in this
process, review does not proceed to the next step.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) (2018).
this analysis, a claimant has the initial burden of showing
that she is unable to return to her past relevant work
because of her impairments. Once the claimant establishes a
prima facie case of disability, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner. To satisfy this burden, the Commissioner must
then establish that the claimant has the residual functional
capacity, considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience and impairments, to perform alternative jobs that
exist in the national economy. See 42 U.S.C.A.
§ 423(d)(2)(A) (West 2011 & 2018 Supp.); McLain
v. Schweiker, 715 F.2d 866, 868-69 (4th Cir.
1983); Hall, 658 F.2d at 264-65; Wilson v.
Califano, 617 F.2d 1050, 1053 (4th Cir.
stated above, the court's function in this case is
limited to determining whether substantial evidence exists in
the record to support the ALJ's findings. This court must
not weigh the evidence, as this court lacks authority to
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner,
provided her decision is supported by substantial evidence.
See Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456. In determining whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's
decision, the court also must consider whether the ALJ
analyzed all of the relevant evidence and whether the ALJ
sufficiently explained his findings and his rationale in
crediting evidence. See Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v.
Akers, 131 F.3d 438, 439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).
argues that substantial evidence does not exist to support
the ALJ's finding that she was not disabled.
(Plaintiff's Brief In Support Of Motion For Summary
Judgment, (“Plaintiff's Brief”), at 9-17.) In
particular, Hall argues that the ALJ erred by failing to find
that she suffered from a severe mental impairment.
(Plaintiff's Brief at 11-13.) Hall also argues that the
ALJ erred by failing to properly evaluate and weigh Dr.
Blackwell's opinion. (Plaintiff's Brief ...