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Parker v. Colvin

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

August 27, 2013

CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner of Social Security


JILLYN K. SCHULZE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Wesley Parker brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) final decision denying his claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et. seq. (the Act). Both parties' motions for summary judgment are ready for resolution, see ECF Nos. 12 and 14, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Parker's motion for summary judgment is denied and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment is granted.

1. Background.

Parker filed an application for DIB on April 24, 2008, with an alleged disability onset date of September 30, 1999. R. 14, 48-50. His claim was denied initially on June 26, 2008, R. 51-53, and upon reconsideration on January 14, 2009. R. 58-59. Parker then filed a written request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and the hearing was conducted on May 12, 2010. R. 20-47. The ALJ, William K. Underwood, issued a decision on July 7, 2010, finding that Parker was not disabled under the Act because he retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform jobs available in significant numbers in the national economy. R. 12-19. The Appeals Council subsequently denied Parker's request for review on June 6, 2011, and the ALJ's decision became the final, reviewable decision of the agency. R. 1-5.

2. ALJ's Decision.

The ALJ evaluated Parker's disability claim using the five-step sequential process described in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Parker had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of September 30, 1999 through his date last insured of December 31, 1999. R. 14. At step two, the ALJ found that Parker had the following severe medical impairments: degenerative joint disease of the knees, morbid obesity, and gout. R. 14. At step three, the ALJ found that Parker did not suffer from an impairment, or combination of impairments, listed in 20 C.F.R Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 14. At step four, the ALJ reviewed the record and determined that as of December 31, 1999, Parker possessed the RFC to perform repetitive, unskilled, sedentary work with some additional limitations, [1] R. 15, but was unable to perform any of his past relevant work. R. 18. At step five, given Parker's age, high school education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ considered the testimony of the vocational expert (VE) and concluded that Parker was eligible for work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Parker was not disabled as defined under the Act and denied his application for benefits.

3. Standard of Review.

The role of this court on review is to determine if the ALJ applied the correct legal standards in finding Parker not disabled, and if substantial evidence supports that conclusion. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1202 (4th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence requires "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and quotation marks omitted). To be substantial, there must be more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance, of the evidence presented. Shively v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984). This court may not try the case de novo, and will affirm a decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. Id. If conflicting evidence could cause reasonable minds to differ on whether or not the claimant is disabled, it is the ALJ's right and responsibility to make that determination. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (citing Walker v. Bowen, 834 F.2d 635, 640 (7th Cir. 1987)).

4. Discussion.

Before addressing Parker's arguments, the court notes that Parker's disability onset date is September 30, 1999 and his "date last insured" is December 31, 1999. Thus, Parker only had a three month window in which to show that he was disabled under the Act. Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 655-56 (4th Cir. 2005) ("To qualify for DIB, [the claimant] must prove that she became disabled prior to the expiration of her insured status.") (citing 42 U.S.C.A. § 423 (a)(1)(A), (c)(1)(B) and 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.101(a), 404.131(a)(2005)). In this case, there was very little evidence of Parker's condition prior to his date last insured. No records created prior to that date indicate that Parker is disabled.[2] On March 12, 1999, a treatment note from the Mirkin Medical Consultants indicated that Foster had gained weight (the ALJ noted that "[h]is weight was consistently over 400 pounds"), had high blood pressure, experienced urinary stinging, and suffered from gout. R. 16, 259. Likewise, on January 11, 2000, Dr. Robert M. Verklin noted that Parker experienced knee pain but concluded that Parker was not a candidate for arthroscopic surgery. R. 196. Dr. Verklin suggested that Parker "needs to lose a lot of weight and, in addition, consider nonoperative means such as... anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, or lubricant injections." R. 197. However, on May 10, 2010, over ten years later, treating physician Dr. Christie stated that he had been treating Parker "on and off" since 1997 and that Parker had been disabled from employment since September 1999. R. 363. He also stated that Parker was disabled "probably also prior to 1999." R. 367.

Parker offers two primary arguments, namely, that: (a) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the retrospective opinions of Dr. Christie and (b) the ALJ erroneously relied upon the testimony of the VE.

A. The Opinions of Dr. Christie

Parker first argues that the ALJ improperly evaluated whether Dr. Christie's opinions should be accorded controlling weight. ECF No. 12-1 at 5. A treating physician's testimony will be given controlling weight when the testimony is "well supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the record.'" Miller v. Callahan, 964 F.Supp. 939, 950 (D. Md. 1997) (quoting Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 590 (4th Cir.1996)). If the testimony is not well supported or if it is inconsistent with other substantial evidence, it should be accorded significantly less weight. Id. Here, the ALJ declined to accord controlling weight to Dr. Christie for three reasons. First, the ALJ noted that Dr. Christie's May 2008 opinion, which stated that Parker could never stand, walk, climb, bend, squat or crawl, directly conflicted with Dr. Marcalus's June 2008 function-byfunction, detailed examination of Parker's postural capabilities. R. 310, 328. Specifically, Dr. Marcalus's examination noted: (1) no difficulties with sitting, standing, carrying or handling objects; (2) no need for an ambulatory aid; and (3) a score of 5/5 relating to his motor strength in his extremities. R. 310-11. Second, the ALJ pointed out that Dr. Christie had no medical records to support his opinion but instead relied solely on the fact that he was Parker's treating physician. R. 17. Third, the ALJ emphasized that the July 2008 x-ray of Parker's right wrist (showing only a mild degree of degenerative change at the radial aspect of one his joints) was consistent with Dr. Marcalus's notation of 4/5 grip strength and the ability to make a fist, oppose fingers, and fully extend his hands. R. 308. Accordingly, the ALJ accorded less weight to Dr. Christie's assessment that Parker could never perform most posturals. This decision is supported by substantial evidence.[3]

Parker next contends that the ALJ erred in failing to address "in any manner" Dr. Christie's May 6, 2010 opinion, ECF No. 12-1 at 6, but this argument is unpersuasive for several reasons. First, it is incorrect. The ALJ referenced Dr. Christie's May 7, 2010, letter as well as Dr. Christie's May 6, 2010, form which indicated that Parker was capable of sedentary exertionals. R. 17. In any event, Parker fails to recognize that "an ALJ need not parrot a single medical opinion, or even assign great weight' to any opinions, in determining an RFC." Livingston v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., CIV. SAG-10-2996, 2013 WL 674075, at *2 (D. Md. Feb. 22, 2013). "Instead, an ALJ is required to consider all of the relevant medical and other evidence.'" (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(3), 416.945(a)(3)). Second, Parker fails to explain how a more thorough examination of the May 2010 report could have changed the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Parker was not disabled under the Act. Dr. Christie himself wrote a letter accompanying the May 2010 report in which he stated that: (1) the May 2010 report was only a revised copy of the May 2008 report; and (2) the only difference in the reports was that "the prior one was an assessment of [Parker's] current medical condition and physical limitations" and the more recent report ...

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