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Boone v. Saul

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

August 12, 2019

MELISSA L. BOONE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. GLEN E. CONRAD SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff 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).

         The 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 insured.

         Ms. 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.[2]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.[3] (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)[4] 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 vibration,

(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.

         While 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).

         After a 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 insured.

         The 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).

         Ms. 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).

         In 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).

         On 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. (Tr. 377).

         Ms. 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).

         Ms. 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).

         In 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 ...


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