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Amy J. v. Berryhill

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

August 13, 2018

AMY J.,[1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[2] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Robert S. Ballou United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Amy J. (“Amy”), proceeding pro se, filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) finding her not disabled and therefore ineligible for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision in all respects. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 20).


         This court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's conclusion that Amy failed to demonstrate that she was disabled under the Act.[3] Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal citations and alterations omitted). The final decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed where substantial evidence supports the decision. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).


         Amy filed for DIB on January 9, 2014, claiming that her disability began on December 14, 2013. R. 232-35. Amy's date last insured was December 30, 2017.[4] R. 23. The state agency denied Amy's applications at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 104-31. On April 28, 2016, ALJ Jeffrey J. Schueler held an administrative hearing to consider Amy's claim for DIB. R. 50-89. Amy was represented by counsel at the hearing, which included testimony from Amy, her attorney, and vocational expert Mark Hileman. Id.

         On May 19, 2016, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Amy's claims under the familiar five-step process[5] and denying her claim for benefits. R. 23-42. The ALJ found that Amy suffered from the severe impairments of multiple sclerosis (“MS”), seizure disorder, obesity, and headaches. R. 25. The ALJ determined that these impairments, either individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 28. The ALJ concluded that Amy retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a range of light work. R. 21. Specifically, the ALJ found that Amy can: (1) never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (2) occasionally balance; (3) frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs; and (4) only work jobs that do not require her to drive commercially or be exposed to vibration, operational control of moving machinery, unprotected heights, and hazardous machinery. R. 28.

         The ALJ determined that Amy was not capable of performing her past relevant work as a hospital cleaner, but could perform her past relevant work as a cashier. R. 40-41. Additionally, the ALJ found that Amy could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as marker, garment folder/packager, addressing clerk, and printed circuit board touch up screener. R. 41. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Amy was not disabled. R. 42.

         Amy appealed the ALJ's decision, and the Appeals Council denied her request for review. R. 1-4. This appeal followed.


         Amy has a history of MS and seizures. Amy was diagnosed with MS at age 21. R. 953. Amy explained that her conditions require her to sit or lay down four or five times per day and she cannot shower or bathe daily. R. 316. Amy stated that she has headaches and constant pain in her neck, back, and legs. R. 341. In her function report, Amy explained that she prepares simple meals, works with her husband to complete chores, spends time talking with friends and family, and has difficulty lifting, squatting, bending, standing, reaching, walking, sitting, climbing stairs, using her hands, remembering things, and completing tasks. R. 307-13. At the administrative hearing, Amy testified that she infrequently has large seizures, but has small seizures “once or twice a week.” R. 65-66. Amy explained that her MS is in remission, but still causes her to be unable to sit, stand, or control her bowels. R. 67. Amy stated that she can stand for 15 minutes, walk for five minutes, and sit for 20 to 30 minutes. R. 69-71. Amy explained that she has problems lifting items. R. 71.

         Medical Evidence Prior to the Relevant Period

         Before the relevant period, Amy told her primary care physician, David Cummings, M.D., on February 24, 2009 that her MS was under control due to her medications. R. 437. Amy reported frequent headaches that occur almost daily. Id. Dr. Cummings reported that Amy's MS and lab studies were stable, continued her on Elavil for her headaches, and started a trial of Depakote. Id. Amy followed up with Dr. Cummings on May 1, 2009, reporting that she stopped taking her MS medication as she was attempting to become pregnant. R. 793. Dr. Cummings noted that Amy continued to take a diet pill, “which is somewhat incongruent since she is trying to get pregnant at the same time.” Id. Dr. Cummings noted that Amy's MS was “quite stable.” Id.

         Medical Evidence during the Relevant Period

         Amy was admitted to the emergency room on December 16, 2013 for a seizure. R. 489. Robert E. Salters, M.D., reported that Amy was alert and oriented, but had no memory of the event. Id. Dr. Salters explained that Amy had no prior seizure history, and attributed the seizure to an upcoming surgery which required Amy to fast. Id. Dr. Salters explained that a CT scan showed no “no definite evidence of acute complication for the reported seizure episode.” R. 493. Amy underwent surgery to remove an ovarian cyst the next day, and she tolerated the surgery well. R. 653. Robert L. Slackman, M.D., advised Amy that a temporal lobe lesion could have caused her recent seizure, and that she should follow up with her neurologist. Id. On December 30, 2013, Amy's neurologist, Clement A. Elechi, M.D, explained that her recent seizure could be the result of medication withdrawal or a medication that would lower her seizure threshold. R. 777. Dr. Elechi concluded that Amy could not work due to seizures. Id.

         On January 9, 2014, Dr. Cummings recommended that Amy seek disability for her chronic headaches, MS, and seizures. R. 435. Physical, neurological, cardiac, and ...

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