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.

Reynolds v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

June 22, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff has filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiffs claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits under the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423, and 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq., respectively. Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). This court's review is limited to a determination as to whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's conclusion that plaintiff failed to meet the requirements for entitlement to benefits under the Act. If such substantial evidence exists, the final decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed. Laws v. Celebrezze, 368F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966). Stated briefly, substantial evidence has been defined as such relevant evidence, considering the record as a whole, as might be found adequate to support a conclusion by a reasonable mind. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

         The plaintiff, Kay Frances Reynolds, was born on March 20, 1961. She eventually graduated from high school and also completed two years of college. (Tr. 315). Ms. Reynolds has been employed as a twister, hooker, sales attendant, cashier, sandwich maker, and fast food worker. She was still working at Taco Bell on a part-time basis at the time of the administrative hearing on April 27, 2016. (Tr. 51). On October 3, 2013, Ms. Reynolds filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. In filing her current claims, Ms. Reynolds alleged that she became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment on August 15, 2008, due to bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, degenerative arthritis in her shoulders and lower back, bone spurs, left knee pain, and kidney stones.[1] (Tr. 281, 314). Ms. Reynolds now maintains that she has remained disabled to the present time. With respect to her application for disability insurance benefits, the record reveals that Ms. Reynolds met the insured status requirements of the Act through the third quarter of 2015, but not thereafter. See generally, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423(a). Consequently, plaintiff is entitled to a period of disability and disability insurance benefits only if she has established that she became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment on or before September 30, 2015.

         Ms. Reynolds' applications were denied upon initial consideration and reconsideration. She then requested and received a de novo hearing and review before an Administrative Law Judge. In an opinion dated August 19, 2016, the Law Judge also determined, after applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, that Ms. Reynolds is not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920.[2] Based on the earnings records from her job at Taco Bell, the Law Judge first ruled that Ms. Reynolds engaged in substantial gainful activity during the third and fourth quarters of 2015, and that the disability inquiry therefore ended at the first step of the sequential evaluation process with respect to that period. (Tr. 17). However, the Law Judge found that there had been continuous 12-month periods during which the claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity. (Tr. 18). Accordingly, the Law Judge focused the remainder of her decision on such periods. The Law Judge found that Ms. Reynolds suffers from several severe impairments, including "cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease, compression fracture at LI, obesity, bipolar affective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorder, and a personality disorder, ", but that these impairments do not, either individually or in combination, meet or medically equal the requirements of a listed impairment. (Tr. 18-19). The Law Judge then assessed Ms. Reynolds' residual functional capacity as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform less than a full range of light work as defined in 20'C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except: occasional stairs and ramps; no ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and no crawling; moderate noise environment; and occasional exposure to extreme cold, vibrations and workplace hazards such as dangerous moving machinery but no exposure to unprotected heights.[3] She can perform unskilled work at an SVP 1 or 2 where the pace of productivity is not dictated external outside her control, such as conveyor belts.[4]

(Tr. 20). Given such a residual functional capacity, and after considering testimony from a vocational expert, the Law Judge determined that Ms. Reynolds remains capable of performing her past relevant work as a fast food worker. In the alternative, the Law Judge found that if even if Ms. Reynolds is disabled for past relevant work, she retains the capacity to perform other work roles existing in significant number in the national economy. Accordingly, the Law Judge concluded that Ms. Reynolds is not disabled, and that she is not entitled to benefits under either federal program. See generally 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f)-(g) and 416.920(f)-(g). The Law Judge's opinion was adopted as the final decision of the Commissioner by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. Having exhausted all available administrative remedies, Ms. Reynolds has now appealed to this court.

         While plaintiff may be disabled for certain forms of employment, the crucial factual determination is whether plaintiff is disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2) and 1382c(a). There are four elements of proof which must be considered in making such an analysis. These elements are summarized as follows: (1) objective medical facts and clinical findings; (2) the opinions and conclusions of treating physicians; (3) subjective evidence of physical manifestations of impairments, as described through a claimant's testimony; and (4) the claimant's education, vocational history, residual skills, and age. Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157, 1159-60 (4th Cir. 1971): Underwood v. Ribicoff. 298 F.2d 850, 851 (4th Cir. 1962).

         After a review of the record in this case, the court is constrained to conclude that the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence. The Law Judge's opinion reflects a thorough evaluation of Ms. Reynolds' medical problems and the extent to which they affect her ability to work. Although Ms. Reynolds suffers from a combination of physical and emotional impairments, substantial evidence supports the Law Judge's determination that she, retains the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light, unskilled work.

         The record reveals that Ms. Reynolds was incarcerated from November 2011 through August 2013, after being convicted of statutory burglary and grand larceny. (Tr. 321, 441). Records from the Virginia Department of Corrections contain references to an abnormal affect, an impaired mood, and musculoskeletal pain for which plaintiff received medications. (Tr. 484-663). In May of 2011, correctional officers found twenty-five carbamazapine tablets, which plaintiff was supposed to be taking twice a day, in plaintiffs cell. (Tr. 663). Ms. Reynolds was also found to be hoarding Ibuprofen and Benadryl. (Tr. 663). The prison physician recommended that plaintiff stop receiving medications at that time. (Tr. 662).

         In September of 2013, following her release from incarceration, Ms. Reynolds reestablished treatment at Bassett Family Practice. (Tr. 437-38). She complained of feeling depressed and asked to be tested for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (Tr. 437). Dr. Kwamba Nkembe noted that Ms. Reynolds was hyperactive during the examination and had trouble staying on track, but that she was alert and oriented with normal speech form and content. He diagnosed plaintiff with bipolar affective disorder and OCD. (Tr. 437). Dr. Nkembe advised her to continue taking Tegretol (carbamazapine) and referred her to a counselor. (Tr. 438). He also wrote a "to whom it may concern letter" indicating that Ms. Reynolds was incapable of working. (Tr. 434).

         On September 17, 2013, Ms. Reynolds met with Erin Jenkins, LPC for an initial behavioral health evaluation. Ms. Reynolds reported that she had been forced to stop taking college classes as a result of being incarcerated, but that she had since re-enrolled to work on another degree. (Tr. 441). During the evaluation, plaintiffs thought process appeared to be scattered and her speech was pressured. (Tr. 442). However, Ms. Jenkins noted that she was well-groomed with normal eye contact, a reactive affect, an engaged and cooperative attitude, normal thought content, and fair insight and judgment. (Tr. 442).

         Ms. Reynolds returned to Dr. Nkembe on October 2, 2013 with complaints of neck pain and muscle spasms in her back. (Tr. 443). On examination, plaintiff exhibited normal range of motion in her spine and her straight leg raise test was normal. Dr. Nkembe prescribed a 15-day • supply of Lortab for pain and a muscle relaxant for spasms. (Tr. 443).

         During a follow-up appointment with Ms. Jenkins on October 22, 2013, Ms. Reynolds reported ongoing conflicts with her father and brother, but noted that she had been going to church and speaking with her pastor and his wife. (Tr. 452). Although plaintiff continued to have pressured speech, she was well groomed, exhibited a logical, goal-directed thought process, was oriented in all four spheres, and demonstrated fair insight and judgment. (Tr. 452).

         Plaintiffs symptoms remained relatively unchanged through November and December of 2013. (Tr. 454, 456). On December 12, 2013, Ms. Jenkins met with Megan Ellis, LPC at Bassett Family Practice. (Tr. 456). Although she complained of ongoing issues with her father, Ms. Reynolds reported that she had developed a good relationship with her pastor, that she was attending ...

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.