United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
S. Ballou, United States Magistrate Judge.
Sandra L. (“Sandra”) filed this action
challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) finding her not
disabled and therefore ineligible for supplemental security
income (“SSI”) and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under the Social Security Act
(“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433,
1381-1383f. Sandra alleges that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred because he failed to properly
evaluate the opinions of Sandra's treating primary care
conclude that substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's decision. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND
DENYING Sandra's Motion for Summary Judgment
(Dkt. 12) and RECOMMEND GRANTING the
Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 14).
Court limits its review to a determination of whether
substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's
conclusion that Sandra failed to demonstrate that she was
disabled under the Act. 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.
filed for DIB and SSI on January 25, 2013, claiming
disability due to back and neck problems/right knee
problems/tennis elbow, tendonitis in her right hand, and
osteoporosis, with an alleged onset date of March 2, 2012. R.
79, 90. Sandra was 55 years old when she applied for DIB and
SSI, making her 53 years old on her alleged onset date.
Id. Based on her earnings record, the ALJ determined
that Sandra had acquired sufficient quarters of coverage to
remain insured through September 30, 2017. R. 18, 222. Thus,
she must show that her disability began on or before
September 30, 2017, and existed for twelve continuous months
to receive DIB. R. 18, 20; 42 U.S.C. §§
423(a)(1)(A), (c)(1)(B), (d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§
404.101(a), 404.131(a). Additionally, to receive SSI, Sandra
must show that she has been disabled for at least twelve
months prior to the date of filing her disability
application. R. 79. The state agency denied Sandra's
applications at the initial and reconsideration levels of
administrative review. R. 79- 123. On June 22, 2016, ALJ
Thomas W. Erwin held a hearing to consider Sandra's
claims for DIB and SSI. R. 43-68. Counsel represented Sandra
at the hearing, which included testimony from vocational
expert Mark Howlin. R. 43. On August 24, 2016, the ALJ
entered his decision analyzing Sandra's claims under the
familiar five-step process and denying her claim for benefits. R.
found that Sandra had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since March 2, 2012, the alleged onset date. R. 20.
The ALJ determined that Sandra suffered from the severe
impairments of lumbar degenerative disc disease and
degenerative joint disease of the right knee. R. 21-22, 24.
The ALJ determined that these impairments, either
individually or in combination, did not meet or medically
equal a listed impairment, specifically listings 1.02 (major
joint dysfunction) or 1.04 (disorders of the spine). R. 22.
The ALJ found that Sandra's medically determinable
impairments of osteoporosis and right wrist pain were
non-severe. R. 24, 248. The ALJ also determined that
Sandra's neck and shoulder pain was not medically
determinable, as there were no diagnoses of any neck or
shoulder impairments. Id. The ALJ found that the
record did not establish any medically determinable mental
impairment. Id. He determined that Sandra has no
more than mild limitations in activities of daily living,
social functioning, and concentration, persistence, or pace,
and no episodes of decompensation. R. 21, 24.
concluded that Sandra retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work. R.
22. Regarding limitations, the ALJ determined that Sandra
can: never operate foot controls, crawl, or climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps or stairs,
balance, stoop, kneel, or crouch; and have no more than
occasional exposure to vibrations or other hazardous
machinery, and to operational control of moving machinery.
Id. The ALJ ultimately concluded that Sandra was
capable of performing her past relevant work as a
receptionist and accounting clerk, as actually performed by
Sandra and as generally performed in the national economy. R.
35. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Sandra was not disabled. R.
36-37. The Appeals Council denied Sandra's request for
review on July 26, 2017. R. 1-5.
alleges that the ALJ erred because he failed to properly
evaluate the opinions of her treating primary care physician,
Michael A. Malpass, M.D., and so substantial evidence does
not support the ALJ's decision.
initial disability report, Sandra claimed disability based on
back and neck problems/right knee problems/tennis elbow,
tendonitis in her right hand, and osteoporosis. R. 79, 90.
Sandra testified that her pain is primarily in her lower back
and right leg, particularly in her right knee. R. 58, 248.
Sandra reported the pain started after a car accident in
2001. R. 248-49. She testified to using a cane for around
five years, although her doctors never prescribed one. R.
49-50. Sandra testified that she stopped working in 2012
because her back kept her from doing her job. R. 52. There
was no precipitating event at that time; instead, Sandra just
decided she could no longer work. R. 53. Sandra lies down for
four to five hours each ...