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Robey v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 16, 2016

SHRONDA L. ROBEY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROBERT S. BALLOU, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

Plaintiff Shronda Robey (“Robey”) challenges the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) determining that she was not disabled and therefore not eligible for supplemental security income (“SSI”), and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. Robey alleges that the ALJ erred on multiple grounds, each of which are addressed below. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner’s decision on all grounds. Accordingly, I GRANT the Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 23), and DENY Robey’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 18.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner’s conclusion that Robey failed to demonstrate that she was disabled under the Act.[1] 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 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. 1990).

CLAIM HISTORY

Robey filed for SSI and DIB on April 18, 2012, claiming that her disability began on March 31, 2011. R. 179-194. The Commissioner denied the applications at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 55-71, 73-93. On February 11, 2014, ALJ Brian P. Kilbane held a video hearing to consider Robey’s disability claim. R. 29-54. Robey was represented by an attorney at the hearing, which included testimony from vocational expert Andrew Beale. Id.

On February 27, 2014, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Robey’s claim under the familiar five-step process, [2] and denying Robey’s claim for disability. R. 14-28. The ALJ found that Robey suffered from the severe impairments of affective disorder, anxiety disorder and substance addiction disorder. R. 16. The ALJ further found that Robey retained the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with the following non-exertional limitations: simple, unskilled work on a sustained basis in a competitive work environment where there is no more than occasional interaction with co-workers and the general public. R. 18. The ALJ determined that Robey could not return to her past relevant work as a short order cook, fork lift operator and receptionist (R. 26), but that Robey could work at jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as cleaner, mail sorter and vehicle cleaner. R. 27. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Robey was not disabled. R. 28. On June 24, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Robey’s request for review (R. 1-5), and this appeal followed.

ANALYSIS

Robey has a history of depression, mood disorder, substance addiction disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). R. 19. Robey asserts that the ALJ made multiple errors in this case relating to those mental impairments, including failing to perform a function-by-function analysis of her impairments, failing to properly account for her moderate impairment with concentration, failing to properly analyze the listings, and failing to properly weigh the opinion of her treating physician.[3] Having reviewed the record, I find that the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial evidence.

Function-by-Function Analysis

Robey generally argues that the ALJ did not perform a function-by-function analysis prior to determining her RFC and thus, his decision did not properly consider the combination of her functional limitations. Robey specifically argues that the ALJ improperly generalized her anxiety and affective disorders under a broad severe impairment of anxiety and depression, without accounting for the unique limitations arising from each of her mental conditions. Pl. Br. Summ. J. p. 12. Robey points to medical records reflecting her panic attacks, general nervousness, bipolar disorder and PTSD. Pl. Br. Summ. J. p. 12-13. Robey also argues that the ALJ did not specify which limitations arose from her severe substance abuse disorder. Pl. Br. Summ. J. p. 14.

The ALJ must include a narrative discussion describing how the evidence supports his conclusions when developing the RFC. See SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184 (SSA) (July 2, 1996). Specifically, the ALJ is instructed to cite specific medical facts and non-medical evidence supporting his conclusion, discuss the individual’s ability to perform sustained work activities in an ordinary work setting on a regular and continuing basis, describe the maximum amount of each work-related activity the individual can perform, and explain how any material inconsistencies or ambiguities in the evidence were considered and resolved. SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *7. In the recent Fourth Circuit opinion Mascio v. Colvin, the court rejected a “per se rule requiring remand when the ALJ does not perform an explicit function-by-function analysis, ” agreeing instead with the Second Circuit that “‘[r]emand may be appropriate ... where an ALJ fails to assess a claimant’s capacity to perform relevant functions, despite contradictory evidence in the record, or where other inadequacies in the ALJ's analysis frustrate meaningful review.’” Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing Cichocki v. Astrue, 729 F.3d 172, 177 (2d Cir. 2013)). “The Mascio Court held remand was necessary, in part, because the ALJ failed to indicate the weight given to two residual functional capacity assessments which contained relevant conflicting evidence regarding the claimant’s weight lifting abilities.” Newcomb v. Colvin, No. 2:14-CV-76, 2015 WL 1954541, at *3 (N.D. W.Va. Apr. 29, 2015).

Here, the ALJ’s decision includes the narrative discussion required by SSR 96-8p, and contains sufficient information to allow meaningful review. Unlike the ALJ in Mascio, the ALJ in this case did not fail to consider conflicting medical evidence. Further, the court is “not left to guess about how the ALJ arrived at his conclusions” because the ALJ’s findings include a detailed summary of Robey’s medical records, the medical opinions, Robey’s hearing testimony and the ALJ’s conclusions. R. 18-26. The ALJ did not err by generalizing Robey’s mental impairments under the severe impairments of affective disorder, anxiety disorder and substance abuse disorder. The ALJ found Robey’s mental impairments to be severe and analyzed them in detail in his RFC analysis. The ALJ spent nine pages discussing the evidence in the record that supports his findings on Robey’s limitations. Id. The ALJ reviewed Robey’s alleged symptoms in detail and explained why they lacked support in the record. R. 23-24. The ALJ considered the conflicting medical opinions in the record and provided an explanation as ...


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