United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
S. Ballou, United States Magistrate Judge
Angelia L. (“Angelia”) filed this action
challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) finding her not
disabled and therefore ineligible for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) under the Social Security Act
(“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433,
1381-1383f. Angelia alleges that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred because substantial evidence does
not support (1) his evaluation of certain medical opinion
evidence, and (2) his assessment of Angelia's subjective
allegations of impairment. I conclude that substantial
evidence supports the Commissioner's decision.
Accordingly, I RECOMMEND DENYING
Angelia's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 12) and
RECOMMEND GRANTING the Commissioner's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 15).
Court limits its review to a determination of whether
substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's
conclusion that Angelia 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 on February 6, 2015, and SSI on February 2,
2015, claiming disability due to impingement syndrome, open
wound on her ring finger, open fracture in her finger, closed
fracture in her finger, tenosynovitis in her hand, and
bicipital tenosynovitis, with an alleged onset date of
September 12, 2012. R. 57, 70. Angelia was 50 years old when
she applied for DIB and SSI, making her 47 years old on her
alleged onset date. Id. Angelia's date last
insured was December 31, 2012; thus, she must show that her
disability began on or before December 31, 2012, and existed
for twelve continuous months to receive DIB. Id.; 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, Angelia must show that she has been disabled for
at least twelve months prior to the date of filing her
disability application. R. 70. The state agency denied
Angelia's applications at the initial and reconsideration
levels of administrative review. R. 57-93. On January 26,
2017, ALJ Theodore W. Amos held a hearing to consider
Angelia's claims for DIB and SSI. R. 29-50. Counsel
represented Angelia at the hearing, which included testimony
from vocational expert Beth Crane. R. 29. On April 10, 2017,
the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Angelia's claims
under the familiar five-step process and denying her claim for
benefits. R. 10-24.
found that Angelia had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since September 12, 2012, the alleged onset date. R.
12. The ALJ determined that Angelia suffered from the severe
impairments of disorders of the fingers, hands, shoulders,
and back. R. 12-13. The ALJ found Angelia's headaches to
be non-severe. R. 12. The ALJ determined that Angelia's
impairments, either individually or in combination, did not
meet or medically equal a listed impairment, specifically
considering listings 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint),
1.04 (disorders of the spine), and 1.07 (fractures of the
upper extremities). R. 13-14. As for mental impairments, the
ALJ determined that Angelia's anxiety and depression were
non-severe, and found that she had no more than mild
limitations with respect to any of the “paragraph
B” criteria. R. 13.
concluded that Angelia retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work. R. 14.
Angelia's postural limitations included never climbing
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasional crawling; and
frequent balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and
climbing ramps and stairs. Id. Angelia could
occasionally push and pull with her upper extremities, and
only occasionally reach, handle, finger, and feel. R. 14-15.
For environmental limitations, the ALJ found that Angelia
could have occasional exposure to extreme cold, wetness, and
work hazards. R. 14-15. The ALJ determined that Angelia is
unable to perform her past work as a screen printing machine
operator helper or cut-off saw operator, but could still
perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy, such as counter clerk, furniture rental
consultant, and usher. R. 22-23. The ALJ ultimately concluded
that Angelia was not disabled. R. 23-24. The Appeals Council
denied Angelia's request for review on February 27, 2018.
alleges that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
erred because substantial evidence does not support (1) his
evaluation of certain medical opinion evidence, and (2) his
assessment of Angelia's subjective allegations of
September 2012, the third, fourth, and fifth fingers of
Angelia's right hand were caught in a printing press. R.
60, 262. She had a large laceration on the fourth finger,
comminuted fractures of the ungula tufts of the third and
fourth fingers, and a chip fracture in the third finger. R.
265-66, 420. Follow-up x-rays showed that there were probably
fractures in the fifth finger that were not visible
initially. R. 502. Angelia's temporary work restriction
was no use of the right hand. R. 420-21, 425, 428, 434.
later began seeing James Dunstan, M.D., who sent her to
physical therapy and recommended work restrictions. In
October 2012, Angelia began physical therapy (R. 440, 445,
447-48, 453), which she continued through November (R.
459-60, 462, 466-67, 469-70, 480- 83) and December (R.
486-87, 489-90, 492, 505, 508). In November 2012, Angelia
began trying to use her hands for activities of daily living,
but she was still on pain medication. R. 451, 456, 473. In
December 2012, Angelia developed bursitis in her right
shoulder, for which she started physical therapy. R. 495.
Imaging studies showed no acute abnormality. R. 500. At that
time, because her hand fractures had healed, Dr. Dunstan
recommended that Angelia start aggressive PT, and amended her
work restriction to light sedentary work with a five-pound
weight limit for her hand. R. 495, 502. Additionally, Angelia
was no longer on pain medication, just ibuprofen. R. 495. Dr.
Dunstan noted later that month that Angelia “can work
and has been able to work, ” but there were no
opportunities for modified work at her place of employment.
2013, Angelia continued attending physical therapy in January
(R. 342-44, 346, 349- 50, 356-58, 362-63), February (R. 355,
373-74, 376-79, 382-83, 385), and March (R. 392, 394, 402).
In January 2013, Dr. Dunstan modified Angelia's temporary
restriction to light work with a ten-pound weight limit for
her hand, and recommended that Angelia start trying to do
more at work. R. 338. In February 2013, Dr. Dunstan modified
Angelia's restriction to a twenty-pound weight limitation
and said it would be safe for her to use her hand as much as
possible. R. 367. In March 2013, Dr. Dunstan recommended that
Angelia end PT and continue with only home exercises, as
Angelia's pain was really improving, she reached
vasomotor stability, and her shoulder was much improved. R.
389-90, 398. Upon discharge from PT in April 2013, Angelia
had increased range of motion, grip strength, and functional
use in her right hand (including lifting, carrying, and fine
motor abilities), and improved range of motion and strength
with decreased pain in her right shoulder. R. 406. She was
still unable to perform her prior job duties because she was
limited in her abilities to grip, pinch, and manipulate
objections. Id. Dr. Dunstan kept the twenty-pound
restriction, and in April 2013, he reported that Angelia had
reached maximum medical improvement. R. 411. Angelia had no
remaining limitations in her shoulder. R. 412. In May 2013,
Dr. Dunstan estimated that Angelia had a partial permanent
impairment of 25% in her right hand, resulting in a 23%
impairment of her right upper extremity. R. 414. She had no
permanent impairment in her shoulder, and she was employable
and able to do work not requiring the dexterity of her former
February 2015, Angelia went to the hospital after falling and
injuring her left ring finger, but x-rays showed no acute
abnormality. R. 270-72. Dr. Angelo Dacus later determined
that Angelia had PIP arthritis in her left ring finger, for
which he recommended exercises and physical therapy. R. 284.
He also assessed right trigger thumb, for which Angelia
received an injection. R. 284-85. In August 2016, Dr. David
Hryvniak assessed Angelia for low back pain and diagnosed
chronic left-side low back pain with sciatica and prescribed
medication. R. 311- 12. Angelia was referred for a cervical
spine MRI in August 2016 and to PT, but the record does not
contain any documents for results or diagnoses from either.
hearing, Angelia testified that she is right-handed. R. 35.
Angelia testified to not being able to do any “heavy
lifting” with her right hand, and she drops things
without warning. R. 37. While she primarily has problems with
her right hand, Angelia had nerve replacement surgery on her
left hand in 2015 and cannot bend her left ring finger. R.
38. She testified to having very little feeling in her right
hand, and no feeling in the last three fingers. Id.
She has feeling in her left hand. Id. Angelia
testified that, in terms of daily living, she is slow to get
dressed because she has to use her left hand for buttons and
zippers. R. 40. Angelia still drives. She cannot pick up
money, but she can write with the two good fingers in her
right hand. R. 43.