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Williford v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

June 24, 2016

FRANKIE E. WILLIFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DAVID J. NOVAK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On 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 Commissioner.

         Plaintiff 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.[1] 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.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On 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.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In 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).

         The SSA 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         On 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.)

         The ALJ 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. at 15.)

         In 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.)

         At step 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.) ...


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