United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
RHIANNON V. PARSONS, Plaintiff
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant. v.
B. DOUMAR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Rhiannon V. Parsons'
("Plaintiff) Objections to Magistrate Judge Lawrence R.
Leonard's Report and Recommendation
("R&R"). For the reasons herein, the Court:
(1) ACCEPTS the R&R,
ECF Nos. 17, 18; (2) AFFIRMS the decision of
the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
("Defendant"); (3) DENIES
Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 12; and (4)
GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment. ECF No. 14.
applied for Social Security Income ("SSI") on May
17, 2012, alleging disability as of April 20, 2011, caused by
anemia, chronic urinary tract infections, bipolar disorder,
panic /anxiety disorder, arrhythmia, and chronic pain in her
hands, knees, and back. R. 21, 23, 77, 213. The Commissioner
denied Plaintiffs application at the initial level and the
reconsideration level of administrative review. R. 112, 126.
Plaintiff then requested a hearing by an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ), which occurred on August 12, 2015. R. 42. That
day, Plaintiff, her father, and a vocational expert testified
by video before the ALJ. R. 42, 43.
October 22, 2015, the ALJ denied Plaintiffs application. R.
18. Plaintiff timely requested reconsideration, but the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request because it found
there was no error of law, substantial evidence supported the
decision, and the case did not present a policy issue of
public interest. R. 1. Therefore, the ALJ's decision
stands as the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes
of judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c)(3); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481 (2016).
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff timely filed the
instant action for judicial review of Defendant's final
decision. ECF No. 3. This Court referred the matter to a
United States Magistrate Judge on March 21, 2017. ECF No. 10.
The next day, the Magistrate Judge ordered Plaintiff to file
a motion for summary judgment, and ordered Defendant to
respond and to cross-move for summary judgment if desired.
ECF No. 11. Plaintiff filed her Motion for Summary Judgment
on April 21, 2017. ECF No. 12. Defendant opposed Plaintiffs
motion and filed her Motion for Summary Judgment on May 22,
2017. ECF No. 14. Judge Leonard issued his R&R with
respect to the parties' opposing motions on January 22,
2018. ECF Nos. 17, 18. The R&R recommends that this Court
DENY Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment, AFFIRM the final
decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration, and GRANT Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment. ECF Nos. 17, 18. Plaintiff filed her objections to
the R&R on February 7, 2018. ECF No. 19. Defendant
responded February 21, 2018. ECF No. 20.
R&R thoroughly summarizes Plaintiffs background, work
experience, medical history, and the Administrative Law
Judge's ("ALJ") findings of fact and
conclusions of law. ECF No. 17 at 4-30. After a de
novo review of the Administrative Record and the
additional documents Plaintiff submitted with her Motion for
Summary Judgment, this Court approves and adopts the
R&R's factual background and its summary of the
ALJ's findings of fact and conclusions of law.
her objections to the R&R, Plaintiff also submitted
medical records from two later appointments. ECF No. 19-1.
First, Plaintiff submits a record titled Cardiology
Outpatient Initial Visit Note from a December 26, 2017 visit
with Dr. Luis Guzman. Dr. Guzman summarized Plaintiffs
illness history, including her diagnoses for Ehlers-Danlos
syndrome ("EDS"), Postural Orthopedic Tachycardia
Syndrome ("POTS"), and Raynaud's phenomenon,
ECF No. 19-1 at 1-2, which diagnoses the Magistrate Judge
addressed in the R&R, ECF No. 17 at 23-24, 32-37. Dr.
Guzman noted that Plaintiff was alert and oriented on her
visit, she did not show signs of acute distress, was
cooperative, appropriate in her mood and affect, but was
"[v]ery tall and skinny." ECF No. 19-1 at 4. Dr.
Guzman generally noted Plaintiff had a regular heartrate, no
edema, normal valve sounds, and no abnormal murmur.
Id. Nonetheless, in his physical examination notes
Dr. Guzman recorded Plaintiffs heartrate at 52, and in his
EKG notes Dr. Guzman recorded Plaintiffs heartrate at 43.
Plaintiff highlights Dr. Guzman's summary that hear
heartrate was "rather low, " she experiences
episodes of tachycardia that cannot be controlled, and if she
has symptomatic bradycardia events from low heartrate he
"might consider" a pacemaker. Id.
Plaintiff submits a record titled Gastroenterology Initial
Visit from a January 10, 2018 visit with Nurse Practitioner
Ann Leggett. ECF No. 19-1 at 5. Nurse Leggett notes that
Plaintiff had recently been diagnosed with diverticulitis and
reported to the clinic for multiple GI complaints.
Id. Those complaints included left-side pain
"which is so severe at times that she can't move,
" daily nausea, infrequent vomiting, constipation,
diarrhea, intermittent trouble urinating, decreased appetite,
and weight loss. Id. Nurse Leggett noted that
Plaintiffs weight was her most concerning condition, at 108
lb with a BMI of 14.79. Id. at 8. Plaintiff
highlights that Nurse Leggett "[e]mphasized that we have
very little margin at this time given [Plaintiffs] current
BMI. If her weight does not increase in the coming weeks, we
will have to place a feeding tube." Id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court reviews
de novo any part of a Magistrate Judge's
recommendation to which a party has properly objected.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The Court may then "accept,
reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive
further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate
judge with instructions." Id. The Court may
reject perfunctory or rehashed objections to R&R's
that amount to "a second opportunity to present the
arguments already considered by the Magistrate-Judge."
Gonzalez-Ramos v. Empresas Berrios, Inc., 360
F.Supp.2d 373, 376 (D. Puerto Rico 2005); see Riddick v.
Colvin, 2013 WL 1192984 *1 n.1 (E.D. Va., Mar. 21,
of eligibility for social security benefits involves a
five-step inquiry." Walls v. Barnhart, 296 F.3d
287, 290 (4th Cir. 2002); see also Johnson v.
Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 n.1 (4th Cir. 2005) (per
curiam). "The claimant has the burden of production and
proof in Steps 1-4. At Step 5, however, the burden shifts to
the Commissioner to produce evidence that other jobs exist in
the national economy that the claimant can perform
considering h[er] age, education, and work experience."
Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012)
(citing Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 35 (4th
Cir. 1992) (per curiam) (internal citation omitted) (internal
quotation omitted). If a determination of disability can be
made at any step, the Commissioner need not analyze
subsequent steps. Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
the claimant must demonstrate that she is not engaged in
substantial gainful activity at the time of application. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, the claimant must prove
that she has "a severe impairment... which significantly
limits... [her] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities." Id. § 404.1520(c). Third, if
the claimant's impairment matches or equals an impairment
listed in appendix one of the Act, and the impairment
lasts-or is expected to last-for at least twelve months, then
the claimant is disabled. Id. § 404.1520(d);
see 20 C.F.R. pt. 404 subpart P app. 1 (listing impairments).
If, however, the impairment does not meet one of those
listed, then the ALJ must determine the claimant's
residual functional capacity ("RFC"). The RFC is
determined based on all medical or other evidence in the
record of the claimant's case. Id. §
404.1520(e). Fourth, the claimant's RFC is compared with
the "physical and mental demands of [the claimant's]
past relevant work." Id. § 404.1520(f). If
it is determined that the claimant cannot meet the demands of
past relevant work then, fifth, the claimant's RFC and
vocational factors are considered to determine if she can
make an adjustment to other work. If the claimant cannot make
such an adjustment, then she is disabled for purposes of the
Act. Id. § 404.1520(g)(1).
Court's review of this five-step inquiry is limited to
determining whether: (1) the decision was supported by
substantial evidence on the record; and (2) the proper legal
standard was applied in evaluating the evidence. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Johnson, 434 F.3d at 65. "If the
Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence in the record, 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). In deciding
whether to uphold the Commissioner's final decision, the
Court considers the entire record, "including any new
evidence that the Appeals Council 'specifically
incorporated ... into the ...