United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
C. HOPPE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Sandra Ann Bergdoll asks this Court to review the Acting
Commissioner of Social Security's
(“Commissioner”) final decision denying her
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. The
case is before me by the parties' consent under 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c)(1). ECF No. 6. Having considered the
administrative record, the parties' briefs, and the
applicable law, I find that substantial evidence supports the
Standard of Review
Social Security Act authorizes this Court to review the
Commissioner's final decision that a person is not
entitled to disability benefits. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 561
(4th Cir. 2006). The Court's role, however, is limited-it
may not “reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute [its] judgment” for that
of agency officials. Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d
470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012). Instead, a court reviewing the
merits of the Commissioner's final decision asks only
whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
applied the correct legal standards and whether substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's factual findings. Meyer
v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 700, 704 (4th Cir. 2011); see
also Riley v. Apfel, 88 F.Supp.2d 572, 576 (W.D. Va.
2000) (citing Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89,
98- 100 (1991)).
evidence” means “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 mere
scintilla” of evidence, id., but not
necessarily “a large or considerable amount of
evidence, ” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552,
565 (1988). Substantial evidence review takes into account
the entire record, and not just the evidence cited by the
ALJ. See Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S.
474, 487-89 (1951); Gordon v. Schweiker, 725 F.2d
231, 236 (4th Cir. 1984). Ultimately, this Court must affirm
the ALJ's factual findings if “conflicting evidence
allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is
disabled.” Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650,
653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (quoting Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996)). However,
“[a] factual finding by the ALJ is not binding if it
was reached by means of an improper standard or
misapplication of the law.” Coffman v. Bowen,
829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987).
person is “disabled” if he or she is unable to
engage in “any substantial gainful activity by reason
of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment
which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted
or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not
less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20
C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). Social Security ALJs follow a
five-step process to determine whether an applicant is
disabled. The ALJ asks, in sequence, whether the applicant:
(1) is working; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an
impairment that meets or equals an impairment listed in the
Act's regulations; (4) can return to his or her past
relevant work based on his or her residual functional
capacity; and, if not (5) whether he or she can perform other
work. See Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-62
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The applicant bears the
burden of proof at steps one through four. Hancock,
667 F.3d at 472. At step five, the burden shifts to the
agency to prove that the applicant is not disabled. See
filed for DIB on December 14, 2012, alleging disability
caused by left hip injury, right shoulder injury/pain, severe
pain, lower back problems, constant pain, rheumatoid
arthritis, body tremors, neck pain, and diabetes.
Administrative Record (“R.”) 39-40, ECF No. 10.
Bergdoll alleged onset of disability as October 27, 2011, at
which time she was forty-one years old. R. 39. Disability
Determination Services (“DDS”), the state agency,
denied her claim at the initial, R. 39-51, and
reconsideration stages, R. 52-67. On November 2, 2015,
Bergdoll appeared with counsel at an administrative hearing
before ALJ Mary Peltzer and testified about her impairments,
past work, and daily activities. R. 12-37. A vocational
expert (“VE”) also testified about Bergdoll's
past work and her ability to do other jobs in the national
economy. R. 32-36.
January 19, 2016, ALJ Peltzer issued a written decision
denying Bergdoll's DIB application. R. 78-93. The ALJ
determined that she had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 27, 2011. R. 80. She then found that
Bergdoll had severe impairments of psoriasis with psoriatic
arthropathy, fibromyalgia, lumbar degenerative disc/joint
disease, and obesity. Id. All other medical
conditions were deemed non-severe. R. 80-82. None of these
impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically
equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. R. 82.
As to Bergdoll's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”),  ALJ Peltzer determined that she could
perform sedentary work as defined in the regulations, except that
she could frequently balance; occasionally stoop, crouch, and
climb stairs and ramps; never kneel, crawl, or climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds; frequently handle and finger; and never
reach overhead with the right upper extremity. R. 83. She
also required a static work environment where changes in task
were infrequent and explained when they occurred.
Id. Considering this RFC and the testimony of the
VE, the ALJ determined that Bergdoll could not perform her
past relevant work as a hospital nurse or as a dental office
nurse. R. 92. She could, however, perform other sedentary
jobs, including telephone order clerk and inspector/grader,
that existed in significant numbers in the national economy.
R. 92-93. Therefore, ALJ Peltzer concluded that Bergdoll was
not disabled. R. 93. The Appeals Council denied
Bergdoll's request for review, R. 1-4, and this appeal
challenges ALJ Peltzer's RFC finding that she can use her
hands to frequently handle and finger. Pl.'s Br. 3-5, ECF
No. 14. Bergdoll specifically identifies the opinion of her
treating rheumatologist, Matthew S. Hogenmiller, M.D., and
her own statements regarding her manipulative limitations as
support for her position. Id. Bergdoll contends that
had the ALJ properly evaluated this evidence, it would have
resulted in a finding that she could do no more than
occasional handling and fingering. Id. at 4-5.
Bergdoll asserts that this restriction would erode the
occupational base and eliminate the jobs identified by the
VE. Id. at 3-4.
has a history of chronic pain, including pain in her
shoulders, arms, hands, neck, cervical spine, lower back, and
throughout her various lower extremities. She treated with
multiple specialists, was prescribed medications, and was
referred to physical therapy and pain management. Because
Bergdoll's argument primarily concerns her manipulative
limitations of handling and fingering, the discussion of the
medical record and her report of symptoms will focus on
evidence related to those limitations.
was involved in a motor vehicle accident on October 27, 2011,
R. 302-03, which she claimed exacerbated all her existing
pain. Bergdoll was taken to the emergency room following the
accident, and she reported back, neck, and left hip pain. R.
302. Bergdoll was discharged with analgesics. R. 303. On
November 4, Bergdoll presented to John Marsh, M.D., regarding
her pain following the motor vehicle accident. R. 418-21. The
review of systems was positive for joint pain, joint
swelling, and limb pain. R. 419. She had no extremity edema
on physical examination. R. 420. She presented to the
University of Virginia Hospital East (“UVA”) on
November 11 with pain in her shoulder, neck, right knee, and