United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
MELISSA L. BOONE, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
GLEN E. CONRAD SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
has filed this action challenging the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiffs claim for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
under the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i) and 423. Jurisdiction of this court is
established pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This
court's review is limited to a determination as to
whether there is substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's conclusion that plaintiff failed to meet
the requirements for entitlement to benefits under the Act.
If such substantial evidence exists, the final decision of
the Commissioner must be affirmed. Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966). Stated
briefly, substantial evidence has been defined as such
relevant evidence, considering the record as a whole, as
might be found adequate to support a conclusion by a
reasonable mind. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971).
plaintiff, Melissa L. Boone, was born on December 29, 1967.
She graduated from high school and attended college for six
to eight months. (Tr. 55-56). Ms. Boone has previously worked
as a cashier, sales associate, and housekeeper. She last
worked on a regular and sustained basis on June 30, 2012.
(Tr. 43). On February 9, 2014, Ms. Boone filed an application
for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits.
In filing her current claim, Ms. Boone alleged that she
became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful
employment on June 30, 2011, due to medullary sponge kidney,
irritable bowel syndrome, hypertension, migraine headaches,
nerve damage in her hands, fatigue, diffuse body pain,
depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 218, 265). At the time of an
administrative hearing on June 16, 2017, the plaintiff
amended her application so as to reflect an alleged
disability onset date of June 30, 2012, which was the date
that she stopped working as a cashier. (Tr. 43). Ms. Boone
now maintains that she has remained disabled to the present
time. The record reveals that Ms. Boone met the insured
status requirements of the Act through the first quarter of
2015 but not thereafter. See generally 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i) and 423(a). Consequently, the plaintiff
is entitled to a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits only if she has established that she
became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful
employment on or before March 31, 2015, her date last
Boone's application was denied upon initial consideration
and reconsideration. She then requested and received a de
novo hearing and review before an Administrative Law
Judge. In an opinion dated July 17, 2017, the Law Judge also
determined, after applying the five-step sequential
evaluation process, that Ms. Boone was not disabled on or
before her date last insured.See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. The Law Judge found that Ms. Boone suffered from
several severe impairments through that date, including
irritable bowel syndrome, nephrolithiasis medullary sponge
kidney, gastroesophageal reflex disease, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease, hyperlipidemia, headaches, and migraines,
but that these impairments did not, either individually or in
combination, meet or medically equal the requirements of a
listed impairment. (Tr. 25-26). The Law Judge then assessed
Ms. Boone's residual functional capacity as follows:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the
residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. [§] 404.1567(a) except the
claimant can climb ramps and stairs occasionally; never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop,
kneel, crouch, and never crawl. The claimant can frequently
work at unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, in
humidity and wetness, in dust, odors, fumes and pulmonary
irritants, in extreme cold, in extreme heat, and in
(Tr. 27). Given such a residual functional capacity, and
after considering testimony from a vocational expert, the Law
Judge determined that Ms. Boone was unable to perform any of
her past relevant work through the date last insured. (Tr.
29). However, the Law Judge found that Ms. Boone retained the
capacity to perform other work roles existing in significant
number in the national economy. (Tr. 30). Accordingly, the
Law Judge concluded that Ms. Boone was not disabled at any
time from the alleged onset date through the date last
insured, and that she is not entitled to a period of
disability or disability insurance benefits. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). The Law Judge's opinion was
adopted as the final decision of the Commissioner by the
Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. Having
exhausted all available administrative remedies, Ms. Boone
has now appealed to this court.
plaintiff may be disabled for certain forms of employment,
the crucial factual determination is whether plaintiff is
disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment.
See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). There are four
elements of proof which must be considered in making such an
analysis. These elements are summarized as follows: (1)
objective medical facts and clinical findings; (2) the
opinions and conclusions of treating physicians; (3)
subjective evidence of physical manifestations of
impairments, as described through a claimant's testimony;
and (4) the claimant's education, vocational history,
residual skills, and age. Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d
1157, 1159-60 (4th Cir. 1971); Underwood v.
Ribicoff. 298 F.2d 850, 851 (4th Cir. 1962).
review of the record in this case, the court is constrained
to conclude that the Commissioner's final decision must
be affirmed. Although Ms. Boone has a long history of
multiple physical and mental impairments, substantial
evidence supports the Law Judge's determination that she
retained the residual functional capacity to perform a
limited range of sedentary work through her date last
record reveals that in November of 2011, approximately eight
months prior to the alleged onset date of disability, Ms.
Boone presented to the emergency room at Carilion New River
Valley Medical Center with complaints of sore throat, ear
pain, dysuria, and hematuria. (Tr. 352). A review of systems
revealed no malaise, fatigue, muscle aches, or joint pain,
and her musculoskeletal, neurological, and psychological
examinations were normal. (Tr. 353). The attending physician
noted that there was no obvious urinary tract infection and
that plaintiffs primary care physician was addressing the
hematuria. (Tr. 357-39). Ms. Boone was advised to stop
smoking immediately and to see an ENT physician if her upper
respiratory symptoms did not improve. (Tr. 355).
Boone presented to her primary care physician, Dr. Garry
Kuiken, with various complaints in 2011 and 2012. On several
occasions, Dr. Kuiken issued notes excusing plaintiff from
work for short periods ranging from one day to two weeks (Tr.
1410-12). On June 18, 2012, just before her alleged onset
date, Ms. Boone reported that she wanted to quit her job so
that she could receive Medicaid again. (Tr. 663).
September of 2012, Ms. Boone presented to the emergency room
with acute nephrolithiasis. (Tr. 607). She received follow-up
treatment at Urology Associates of NRV. On October 5, 2012,
plaintiff reported that she was "doing well." (Tr.
606). The diagnostic assessment included distal ureteral
stone, medullary sponge kidney, and nephrolithiasis.
Plaintiff was advised to return for another evaluation in six
months to a year. (Tr. 606).
April 29, 2013, Ms. Boone presented to Christiansburg
Gastroenterology with complaints of abdominal cramping and
diarrhea. (Tr. 376). She was examined by Dr. Mark Ringold,
who noted that plaintiff was in "no distress" and
reported no fatigue, weakness, myalgia, back pain, or joint
pain. (Tr. 376). Plaintiffs abdomen was found to be soft,
nontender, and nondistended; she exhibited normal range of
motion and no musculoskeletal tenderness; and her physical
examination findings were otherwise normal. (Tr. 376). Dr.
Ringold diagnosed plaintiff with diarrhea and predominant
irritable bowel syndrome, for which he prescribed medication.
Boone returned to Christiansburg Gastroenterology for
follow-up evaluations on July 29, 2013 and September 24,
2013. Although plaintiff continued to experience diarrhea,
the examination notes indicate that it was "better
controlled." (Tr. 386). Physical examination findings in
September were within normal limits, and a biopsy showed no
evidence of celiac disease. (Tr. 386). A review of systems
revealed no fatigue, weakness, myalgia, back pain, or joint
pain, and plaintiff exhibited normal range of motion and no
musculoskeletal tenderness.' (Tr. 386).
Boone's diarrhea remained under control in December of
2013, but she required treatment for hemorrhoids. (Tr.
390-391). She ultimately underwent a complex Ferguson
hemorrhoidectomy on December 16, 2013. (Tr. 441).
March of 2014, plaintiff presented to Community Health Center
of the New River Valley, where she was examined by Dr.
Abraham Hardee. Plaintiff complained of head congestion,
sinus drainage, and muscle aches. She denied having any joint
paint or difficulties with balance, coordination, or gait.
(Tr. 784). On physical examination, her throat and lungs were
clear, and she exhibited full range of motion. (Tr. 785). The
diagnostic assessment included allergic rhinitis,
hypertension, tobacco use disorder, hyperlipidemia, muscle
spasms, and depressive disorder. (Tr. 785). During ...