United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division
MELANIE L. MULLINS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
K. Lee, The Lee Law Firm of Wise, P.C., Wise, Virginia, for
Mendelsohn, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Social
Security Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for
P. Jones United States District Judge
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) has filed objections to the
Report and Recommendation (“Report”) of the
magistrate judge recommending that the plaintiff's
disability claims be remanded to the Commissioner for further
plaintiff, Melanie L. Mullins, seeks disability insurance and
supplemental security income benefits under Titles II and XVI
of the Social Security Act (“Act”). Following a
hearing and decision by an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), her claims were partially denied and
Mullins thereafter filed this action under 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), requesting review of the
Commissioner's decision. The case was referred to the
magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).
The magistrate judge filed her lengthy and detailed Report on
January 8, 2018, and the Commissioner filed timely objections
on January 19, 2018. Those objections are now before me for
de novo determination.
accordance with the Act, I must uphold the Commissioner's
findings if substantial evidence supports them and the
findings were reached through the application of the correct
legal standard. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589
(4th Cir. 1996). Substantial 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) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted). Substantial evidence is
“more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be
somewhat less than a preponderance.” Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). It is not
the role of the court to substitute its judgment for that of
the Commissioner. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453,
1456 (4th Cir. 1990).
then 21 years old, suffered a work place accident to her
right knee in 2009, resulting in a tear of the lateral
meniscus. Thereafter she underwent a number of surgeries to
the knee, without lasting success. She claims that she was
disabled within the meaning of the Act as of May 1, 2011. The
ALJ awarded her benefits beginning August 26, 2015, but ruled
that she was not disabled prior to that date.
found from the evidence that since 2011 Mullins had suffered
from “severe” impairments, meaning that they
caused significant limitations in her ability to perform
basic work functions. Admin. Tr. 26, ECF No. 6. Those severe
impairments were “right-knee strain status-post
multiple surgeries, obesity, depression, and anxiety.”
Id. After an exhaustive review of the medical
evidence, the ALJ found that prior to August 26, 2015,
Mullins had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform the full range of light work
available in the national economy, and thus was not disabled.
Id. at 34-35, 36-37. The ALJ did find that Mullins
was disabled within the meaning of the Act as of August 26,
magistrate judge based her recommendation that the case be
remanded for further administrative development on three
perceived errors by the ALJ. First, she found that two state
agency evaluators, Louis Perrott, Ph.D., and Stonsa N.
Insinna, Ph.D., had placed additional mental work-related
restrictions on Mullins that were not adopted by the ALJ, and
second, that Drs. Perrott and Insinna did not have the
benefit of later mental health records and thus their
opinions should not have been relied upon by the ALJ. Report
32, ECF No. 15.
the magistrate judge found that the ALJ erred in finding that
a functional capacity evaluation by a physical therapist in
June of 2013 supported his conclusions. Id. at
objecting to these findings, the Commissioner points out that
the claimed “additional restrictions” were not
part of the experts' RFC evaluation, but rather part of a
worksheet used to assist in assessing the claimant's RFC.
Moreover, it is argued that the ALJ was not required to
include any limitations contained in a state agency RFC
assessment, based on the ALJ's own evaluation of the
credible evidence. The Commissioner also contends that
because the ALJ considered the later mental health records in
reaching her decision, and articulated sufficient reasons for
that decision, the fact that the state agency evaluators did
not have the benefit of the later information is without
the remaining ground relied upon by the magistrate judge, the
Commissioner argues that while the ALJ found that the
physical therapist's report supported the plaintiff's
RFC, the ALJ was not required to accept all of the
report's opinions, particularly since a physical
therapist is not an “acceptable medical source”
under the Social Security Administration's rulings and
regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(f)(1),
416.927(f)(1); Social Security Ruling 06-3p, 2006 WL 2329939,
at *2 (Aug. 9, 2006). In addition, it is contended that the
other evidence considered and accepted by the ALJ, including
that from acceptable medical sources, supported the ultimate
finding concerning Mullins' physical RFC.
careful review of the record, I agree with the
Commissioner's arguments and find that the objections
should be sustained. I find that the ALJ's decision was
supported by substantial evidence as to the plaintiff's
RFC prior to August 26, 2015, and thus should be affirmed.
it is OR ...