Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Jordan v. Berryhill

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

November 3, 2017




         Pursuant to the Social Security Act § 205(g), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Melissa Gaye Jordan ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of the final decision of Nancy A. Berryhill ("Defendant"), the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, denying Plaintiff's claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. On December 19, 2016, the certified Administrative Record ("R.") was filed under seal, pursuant to Local Civil Rules 5(b) and 7(C)(1). By August 3, 2017, both parties filed motions for summary judgment with briefs in support, which are now ripe for resolution.[1] On August 28, 2017, U.S. District Judge Liam 0'Grady referred this matter to the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         For the following reasons, the undersigned recommends that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 14) be DENIED and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 19) be GRANTED.


         Plaintiff filed the presently disputed application for SSI on November 5, 2010, alleging disabilities of bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), and grand mal seizures with an alleged onset date of September 1, 2010. (R. at 133.)[2] Plaintiff's claims were first denied on June 27, 2011, then again on reconsideration on May 8, 2012. (Id at 175-77, 191-93.) On July 9, 2012, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (Id. at 103, 197-98.) The hearing was held in front of ALJ Eugene Bond on February 21, 2014, during which the testimonies of Plaintiff and vocational expert ("VE") James Ryan were taken. (Id. at 55.) The ALJ issued his decision denying Plaintiff's claims on April 8, 2014. (Id. at 32-34.) Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council for the Office of Disability and Adjudication and Review (“Appeals Council”) on June 6, 2014. (Id. at 28.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 23, 2015, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Defendant. (Id. at 4) Plaintiff filed her Complaint (Dkt. 1) for judicial review of Defendant's decision on August 22, 2016. Defendant filed her Answer (Dkt. 8) on December 19, 2016. By August 3, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 14) and Defendant filed her Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 19). The matter is now ripe for review.


         Under the Social Security Act, the Court's review of Defendant's final decision is limited to determining whether Defendant's decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standard was applied in evaluating the evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). It is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456. While the standard is high, where the ALJ's determination is not supported by substantial evidence on the record, or where the ALJ has made an error of law, the district court must reverse the decision. Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987).

         In reviewing for substantial evidence, the Court must examine the record as a whole, but it may not "undertake to re-weigh the conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the Secretary." Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d at 589 (4th Cir. 1996)). The correct law to be applied includes the Social Security Act, its implementing regulations, and controlling case law. Coffman, 829 F.2d at 517-18. Moreover, Defendant is charged with evaluating the medical evidence and assessing symptoms, signs, and medical findings to determine the functional capacity of a claimant. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456-57. With this standard in mind, the Court next evaluates the ALJ's findings and decision.


         An ALJ is required to employ a five-step sequential evaluation in every Social Security disability claim analysis to determine a claimant's eligibility. The Court examines this five-step process on appeal to determine whether the correct legal standards were applied in this case, and whether Defendant's resulting decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. In accordance with the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 5, 2010, the date of her application for SSI. (R. at 37.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, COPD, hypertension, polysubstance abuse in recent remission, and low back impairment. (Id.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of the one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform unskilled work at the sedentary level as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a), with the following limitations of:

• Only simple and routine tasks and only occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the public;
• Only occasional use of judgment to make simple decisions;
• Only low-stress work and no performance of production-paced work or work that involves production standards, general changes, or judgment changes;
• Only work that permits alternating between sitting and standing at-will during the workday to alleviate symptoms of pain and discomfort.

(Id. at 39.) Fifth, the ALJ found that while Plaintiff did not have any relevant past work, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Id. at 44-45.) Therefore, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from September 1, 2010, the alleged onset date, through August 18, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 45-46.)


         Plaintiff was 44 years old when she testified before the ALJ. (Id. at 57.) Plaintiff has a high school education and has a certificate in private investigation. (Id. at 58.) Plaintiff can read and write, but cannot do simple math. (Id.) Plaintiff's most recent employment involved work as a receptionist. (Id.) In her initial claim, Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of September 1, 2010, with disabilities of bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, COPD, and grand mal seizures. (Id. at 133.) At the ALJ hearing, Plaintiff spoke of additional conditions, including anxiety, depression, and sleep apnea. (Id. at 59-62.)

         A. Testimony at the Hearing Before the ALJ

         At the February 21, 2014, hearing before ALJ Eugene Bond, Plaintiff testified that she was receiving medication for the mental conditions of anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression. (Id. at 60.) Plaintiff testified that because of her mental conditions she cries uncontrollably, gets very nervous, cannot focus or concentrate, has no empathy for others, and sometimes sleeps for days at a time. (Id. at 61-63, 66-67.) Plaintiff latter added that sometimes she stays awake for as long as four to five days straight. (Id. at 64.) Plaintiff testified that her mental conditions do not allow her to complete activities of daily living or to socialize. (Id. at 65.) Plaintiff also testified that her mental conditions worsen when she is not on medication, and at one point while not on medication, she spent five to six months living in the woods. (Id. at 63.) However, Plaintiff stated repeatedly that the medication for her mental conditions only "takes the edge off." (Id. 60-62.) Aside from her mental conditions, Plaintiff also testified that she was receiving medication for the physical conditions of arthritis, high blood pressure, and COPD. (Id. at 62.) Plaintiff stated that she could not afford a machine to treat her sleep apnea. (Id. at 62.) Plaintiff testified that she has difficulty breathing and can only walk two to three blocks at a time. (Id. at 65.)

         The ALJ received testimony from VE James Ryan at the hearing on February 21, 2014. (Id. at 68-72.) The VE stated that an individual with Plaintiff's impairments and limitations can perform unskilled, sedentary work in the national economy. (Id. at 69-71.) The VE did testify that a person with Plaintiff's background, plus the additional limitation of only being ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.