United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division
N. Darnell, Kingsport, Tennessee, for Plaintiff;
DiDomenico, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office
of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. JONES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
social security disability case, I affirm the final decision
of the Acting Commissioner.
plaintiff filed this action challenging the final decision of
the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying the plaintiff's
claim for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits under title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-433 (“Act”). Jurisdiction of
this court exists pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
review is limited to a determination as to whether there is
substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's final
decision. If substantial evidence exists, this court's
“inquiry must terminate, ” and the final decision
of the Commissioner must be affirmed. Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966).
Substantial evidence has been defined as “evidence
which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support
a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a mere
scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
plaintiff protectively applied for benefits on September 26,
2013, alleging disability since March 26, 2013, and received
a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) on May 12, 2016. By decision dated
September 8, 2016, the ALJ found that the plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Act. The Social Security
Administration's Appeals Council denied review, and the
ALJ's opinion constitutes the final decision of the
parties have briefed the issues, and the case is now ripe for
upon the evidence, the ALJ determined that the plaintiff is
unable to return to past relevant work, but had the residual
functional capacity to perform work, as defined in the
regulations. Based upon the testimony of a vocational expert,
the ALJ found that there existed a significant number of jobs
in the national economy which the plaintiff could perform.
of disability under the Act is controlled by a five-step
sequential process under which an ALJ is to evaluate a claim.
These steps include: (1) whether the claimant is working; (2)
whether she has a severe impairment; (3) whether that
impairment meets or equals a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R.
pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1; (4) whether the impairment
prevents the performance of past relevant work; and (5)
whether the impairment prevents the performance of any work
in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4); Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203
(4th Cir. 1995). If the ALJ finds that the claimant has
failed to meet any step of the process, review does not
proceed to the next step. See Hunter v. Sullivan,
993 F.2d 31, 35 (4th Cir. 1992). The burden of proof remains
with the claimant through the fourth step; however, if she
successfully reaches step five, then the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to show that other jobs exist in the national
economy that she can perform. See Id. This burden
may be met by relying on the testimony of a vocational
expert. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566(e).
found that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
employment since her date of claimed disability of March 26,
2013, and that she had the severe impairments of
fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome, depressive disorder, and
anxiety disorder. He also found that she did not have an
impairment that met or equaled the severity of a listed
impairment. However, the ALJ found that she had the residual
functional capacity to perform sedentary work, with certain
he determined that she was unable to perform any of her past
relevant work, he found that there were jobs existing in the
national economy in significant numbers that she could have
performed during her insured period. Accordingly, the ALJ
found that the plaintiff was not disabled.
appeal of the Commissioner's denial of benefits, the
plaintiff makes essentially one argument, as follows: The ALJ
erred in ignoring evidence from three medical providers that
as a result of her impairments, she would miss work more than
two days a month, and that instead the ALJ found that she may
have up to one unscheduled work absence per month on average
as a result of her medical conditions.
with the Commissioner that the ALJ's written decision
adequately considered and weighed the evidence leading to his
conclusions. While the plaintiff presented opinions from
therapist Patricia Owens, primary care provider James
Gardner, M.D., and one-time consultative psychologist John
Ludgate, Ph.D., that the plaintiff was disabled from working,
the ALJ was not required to accept those opinions. He instead
credited other relevant evidence, including the
plaintiff's history of medical treatment, which was
generally routine and conservative, her activities of daily
life, including caring for her new-born baby as well as other
family members, her normal physical examinations, and the
opinions of the state agency physicians and psychologists who
had reviewed her medical records. The ALJ also expressed
detailed reasons for giving lesser weight to the opinions of
the providers relied ...