United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
FRANKIE E. WILLIFORD, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
J. NOVAK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
August 31, 2011, Frankie E. Williford ("Plaintiff)
applied for Social Security Disability Benefits
("DIB") and for Supplemental Security Income
("SSI") under the Social Security Act
("Act"), alleging disability due to attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), bipolar
disorder, depression, anxiety, insomnia, fibromyalgia, back
pain, a bone spur in his neck and a steel rod in his left
femur, with an alleged onset date of January 1, 2011. The
Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied
Plaintiffs claims both initially and upon reconsideration.
Thereafter, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ")
denied Plaintiffs claims in a written decision and the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review,
rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), arguing that the ALJ erred in
failing to properly assess the medical opinion evidence in
the record. (Mem. in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J.
("Pl.'s Mem.") (ECF No. 10) at 3-6.) This
matter now comes before the Court by consent of the parties,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1), on the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment, rendering the matter ripe
for review. For the reasons that follow, the Court
DENIES Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 9),
GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
13) and AFFIRMS the final decision of the Commissioner.
August 31, 2011, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI
with an alleged onset date of January 1, 2011. (R. at
192-208.) The SSA denied these claims initially on April 12,
2012, and again upon reconsideration on June 28, 2012. (R. at
86, 100, 114, 128.) At Plaintiffs written request, the ALJ
held a hearing on February 10, 2014. (R. at 34-72, 143-44.)
On March 18, 2014, the ALJ issued a written opinion, denying
Plaintiffs claims and concluding that Plaintiff did not
qualify as disabled under the Act, because Plaintiff could
perform work available in significant numbers in the national
economy. (R. at 27-28.) On May 6, 2015, the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiffs request for review, rendering the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner subject to
review by this Court. (R. at 1-3.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits, a
court "will affirm the Social Security
Administration's disability determination 'when an
ALJ has applied correct legal standards and the ALJ's
factual findings are supported by substantial
evidence.'" Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632,
634 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Bird v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec. Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012)).
Substantial evidence requires more than a scintilla but less
than a preponderance, and includes the kind of relevant
evidence that a reasonable mind could accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d
470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d
585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). To determine whether substantial
evidence exists, the court must examine the record as a
whole, but may not "undertake to re-weigh conflicting
evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute
[its] judgment for that of the [ALJ]." Hancock,
667 F.3d at 472 (quoting Johnson v. Barnhart, 434
F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005)). In considering the decision
of the Commissioner based on the record as a whole, the court
must "take into account whatever in the record fairly
detracts from its weight." Breeden v.
Weinberger, 493 F.2d 1002, 1007 (4th Cir. 1974) (quoting
Universal Camera Corp. v. N.L.R.B., 340 U.S. 474,
488 (1951)). The Commissioner's findings as to any fact,
if substantial evidence in the record supports the findings,
bind the reviewing court to affirm regardless of whether the
court disagrees with such findings. Hancock, 667
F.3d at 477. If substantial evidence in the record does not
support the ALJ's determination or if the ALJ has made an
error of law, the court must reverse the decision.
Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987).
regulations set forth a five-step process that the agency
employs to determine whether disability exists. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4); see Mascio, 780 F.3d at 634-35
(describing the ALJ's five-step sequential evaluation).
To summarize, during step one, the ALJ looks at the
claimant's current work activity. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(i). During step two, the ALJ asks whether the
claimant's medical impairments meet the regulations'
severity and duration requirements. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii). Step three requires the ALJ to determine
whether the medical impairments meet or equal an impairment
listed in the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(iii). Between steps three and four, the ALJ
must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity
("RFC"), accounting for the most that the claimant
can do despite his physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.945(a). During step four, the ALJ assesses whether
the claimant can perform his past work given his RFC. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). Finally, during step five,
the ALJ determines whether the claimant can perform any work
existing in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §
THE ALJ'S DECISION
February 10, 2014, the ALJ held a hearing during which
Plaintiff (represented by counsel) and a vocational expert
testified. (R. at 12.) On March 18, 2014, the ALJ issued a
written opinion, finding that Plaintiff did not qualify as
disabled under the Act. (R. at 14-28.)
followed the five-step evaluation process established by the
Act in analyzing Plaintiffs disability claim. (R. at 13-14).
At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2011. (R. at
14.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had major
depressive disorder, ADHD, generalized anxiety disorder,
degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, fibromyalgia
and osteoarthritis in multiple sites. (R. at 14). At step
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impartment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R.
assessing Plaintiffs RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had
the RFC to perform light, unskilled work, provided that an
external source over which Plaintiff has no control does not
dictate the pace of productivity. (R. at 17.) Plaintiff could
occasionally climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds. (R. at 17.)
He could occasionally kneel, crouch and crawl. (R. at 17.)
Plaintiff also could have no contact or exposure to the
general public and only occasional contact with coworkers and
supervisors. (R. at 17.)
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform any past
relevant work. (R. at 26.) At step five, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in significant
numbers in the national economy. (R. at 27.) ...