United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
SHELLIE R. NELSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
S. BALLOU, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Shellie R. Nelson (“Nelson”), proceeding pro
se, 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”) under the
Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1381-1383f. Nelson asserts that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by
concluding that she did not have a mental or physical
impairment that rendered her disabled under the Act.
Specifically, Nelson asserts that her diagnosis of Cowden
Syndrome and anxiety are severe impairments that prevent her
from working. I conclude that the ALJ failed to properly
account for Nelson's moderate impairment with
concentration, persistence and pace, and thus the decision is
not supported by substantial evidence. Consequently, I DENY
the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment, and
REVERSE and REMAND this matter for further administrative
consideration consistent with this opinion. Dkt. No. 18.
court limits its review to a determination of whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's
conclusion that Nelson failed to demonstrate that she was
disabled under the Act. 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 and alterations
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.
remand is appropriate if the ALJ's analysis is so
deficient that it “frustrate[s] meaningful
review.” Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 636
(4th Cir. 2015) (noting that “remand is
necessary” because the court is “left to guess
[at] how the ALJ arrived at his conclusions”); see
also Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d. 176, 189 (4th Cir.
2016) (emphasizing that the ALJ must “build an accurate
and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion”
and holding that remand was appropriate when the ALJ failed
to make “specific findings” about whether the
claimant's limitations would cause him to experience his
claimed symptoms during work and if so, how often) (citation
omitted). In Mascio and Monroe, the court
remanded because the ALJ failed to adequately explain how he
arrived at conclusions regarding the claimant's RFC.
Mascio, 780 F.3d at 636, Monroe, 826 F.3d.
at 189. Similarly, I find that remand is appropriate here
because the ALJ's opinion leaves the court to guess at
how he reached his conclusions regarding Nelson's RFC.
filed for SSI on October 18, 2011, claiming that her
disability began on November 4, 2010. R. 266-74. The
Commissioner denied the application at the initial and
reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 100-04,
108-10. On December 5, 2013 and April 21, 2014, ALJ Robert S.
Habermann held hearings to consider Nelson's disability
claim. R. 38-77. Nelson was represented by an attorney at the
hearing, which included testimony from vocational expert
Gerald Wells. Id.
1, 2014, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Nelson's
claim under the familiar five-step process and denying her
claim for benefits. R. 16-28. The ALJ found that Nelson
suffered from the severe impairments of status-post thyroid,
renal, and colon cancer; status-post surgeries and residual
effects; thyroid disorder, status-post thyroidectomy; ovarian
cyst, status-post removal; Cowden syndrome; anxiety disorder;
and obesity. R. 18. The ALJ found that these impairments,
either individually or in combination, did not meet or
medically equal a listed impairment. R. 18-20. The ALJ
further found that Nelson retained the RFC to perform light
work, except that she can frequently push and pull; cannot
climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds or work around
unprotected heights; can occasionally crawl or climb ramps
and stairs; and can frequently kneel, crouch, stoop, and
balance. R. 20. The ALJ also limited Nelson to unskilled
determined that Nelson could not return to her past work of
modification dispatcher (R. 26), but that she could perform
other work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy, such as office helper, mailroom clerk and dining
room attendant. R. 27. Thus the ALJ concluded that Nelson was
not disabled. Id. On August 26, 2015 the Appeals
Council denied Nelson's request for review (R. 1-4), and
this appeal followed.
suffers from Cowden Syndrome, a disorder characterized by
multiple noncancerous, tumor-like growths and an increased
risk of developing certain cancers, including breast cancer,
thyroid cancer, cancer of the endometrium, colon cancer,
kidney cancer and melanoma. See Genetics Home Reference,
a service of the National Library of Medicine, Cowden
Nelson has undergone multiple surgeries to remove tumors or
polyps, including a tumor from her colon (November 2010),
polyps from her colon (June 2011); lesion from her kidney
(October 2011); removal of a fallopian tube and ovary (August
2012); and a thyroidectomy (December 2013). Nelson was also
diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome in October 2010,
and suffers from gastroesophageal reflux disease and chronic
obstructive sleep apnea.
record contains three medical opinions with regard to
Nelson's physical functional capacity. On December 8,
2011, Richard Surrusco, M.D., reviewed Nelson's records
and determined that she could perform a range of light work,
specifically, lifting 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently; standing and walking 4 hours in an 8 hour
workday; sitting for 6 hours in an 8 hour workday; unlimited
pushing and pulling; occasional climbing ramps and stairs,
balancing, stooping, kneeling and crouching, and never
crawling or climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds. R. 82-83.
On May 24, 2012, Joseph Duckwall, M.D., reviewed Nelson's
records and agreed with Dr. Surrusco's findings. R.
gave Drs. Surrusco and Duckwall's opinions
“some” weight and adopted their opinions as to
Nelson's restrictions on lifting and carrying, but
disagreed with their recommended limitations as to
Nelson's ability to stand, walk and postural limitations,
noting that the medical evidence shows no ...