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William U. v. Berryhill

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

August 15, 2018

WILLIAM U.,[1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Hon. Robert S. Ballou United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff William U. (“William”), proceeding pro se, filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) finding him not disabled and therefore ineligible for supplemental security income (“SSI”) and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. 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. 13).


         This Court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's conclusion that William failed to demonstrate that he was disabled under the Act.[2] 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).


         William filed for SSI and DIB in May 2014, claiming that his disability began on April 27, 2014. R. 182-99. William's date last insured was December 30, 2017.[3] R. 12. The state agency denied William's applications at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 60-105. On March 29, 2016, ALJ Geraldine H. Page held an administrative hearing to consider William's claims for DIB and SSI. R. 33-59. William was represented by counsel at the hearing which included testimony from vocational expert John Newman. Id.

         On May 11, 2016, the ALJ entered her decision analyzing William's claims under the familiar five-step process[4] and denying his claim for benefits. R. 17-27. The ALJ found that William was insured at the time of the alleged disability onset and that he suffered from the severe impairments of coronary artery and heart disease with a history of coronary artery bypass grafting and stenting, history of heart attack, and obesity. R. 19. The ALJ determined that these impairments, either individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 21. The ALJ concluded that William retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a range of sedentary work. R. 21. Specifically, the ALJ found that William can: (1) stand and walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday; (2) sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) lift and carry five pounds frequently and ten pounds occasionally; (4) occasionally push and pull; (5) only work jobs that allow him to change posture in place every hour; and (6) occasionally balance, kneel, crawl, crouch, stoop, and climb ramps and stairs, but no crawling or climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. R. 21-22. The ALJ found that William must avoid even moderate exposure to extreme temperatures, excess humidity, pulmonary irritants, and microwaves or electrical magnetic fields. R. 22.

         The ALJ determined that William was not capable of performing his past relevant work as a garment folder, plumber's helper, and short order cook. R. 25. However, the ALJ found that William could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as assembler, packer/stuffer, and inspector/tester/gauger. R. 26. Thus, the ALJ concluded that William was not disabled. R. 27.

         William appealed the ALJ's decision, and the Appeals Council denied his request for review on March 27, 2017. R. 1-4. This appeal followed.


         William has a history of heart disease, including a heart attack in 2014. William also suffers from psoriatic arthritis stemming from his psoriasis. At the administrative hearing, William testified that he can only stand for five to ten minutes (R. 39), is fatigued “all the time” (R. 39), can lift ten pounds comfortably (R. 40), and that sitting irritates his psoriasis on his backside (R. 40). William testified that he has not sought treatment for his psoriasis since 2013, despite having non-stop episodes that cover 90 percent of his body. R. 40.

         In 2013, William received medication for psoriasis, hyperlipidemia, anxiety, and heart disease. R. 273. On April 11, 2014, William visited the emergency department complaining of left ankle pain and swelling for the past two months. R. 253. William reported increased pain that radiates up his calves after standing at work all day. Id. William's physical examination revealed swelling of his left ankle with decreased range of motion, psoriatic lesions over the soles of his feet, and severe psoriasis involving his face, neck, and arms. R. 254. The doctor recommended steroids and a brace, and released William back to work. R. 256, 259.

         William followed up with Jason Meador, P.A., on April 17, 2014, complaining of swelling and pain in his left ankle. R. 269. William reported not taking medication for his psoriasis for the last three years. Id. William also reported occasional chest pain, shortness of breath, and palpitations in stressful situations. Id. Upon examination, William was alert and oriented, had psoriatic patches on his arms, had a normal pulse, had a normal neurologic examination, and had mild swelling and tenderness in his left ankle. R. 269. PA Meador assessed psoriasis and joint pain in his ankle and heart disease, and recommended medication. R. 270.

         On April 27, 2014, William suffered a cardiac arrest and had an 11-day hospital stay during which he had a cardiac catherization and a defibrillator placement. R. 347. William began a beta-locker, an ACE inhibitor, aspirin, statin, and amiodarone. R. 351, 419-21. William was discharged from the hospital on May 8, 2014, with instructions to lose weight and stop using tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs. R. 419-21. The physician noted William's severe psoriatic arthritis and skins lesions and advised him to continue the clinical ...

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