United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
J. Novak United States Magistrate Judge
January 14, 2016, Angela Gregory ("Plaintiff) applied
for Social Security Disability Benefits ("DIB") and
under the Social Security Act (the "Act"), alleging
disability from anxiety, depression, anger and the inability
to concentrate, with an alleged onset date of April 1, 2014.
The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied
Plaintiffs claim both initially and upon reconsideration.
Thereafter, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ")
denied Plaintiffs claim in a written decision and the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, rendering the
ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner
now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), arguing that the ALJ erred by:
(1) assigning little weight to the opinion of Plaintiff s
treating psychiatrist, Ramesh Agarwal, M.D.; and, (2) failing
to order a consultative examination. (Pl.'s Mot. for
Summ. J. & Br. in Supp. ("Pl.'s Mem.") (ECF
No. 12) at 1-5.) This matter now comes before the Court for a
Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B) on the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment, rendering the matter ripe for review. For the reasons
that follow, the Court recommends that Plaintiffs Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12) be DENIED, that Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13) be GRANTED and that
the final decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.
January 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB with
an alleged onset date of April 1, 2014. (R. at 194, 204.) The
SSA denied her claim initially on March 14, 2016, and again
upon reconsideration on April 13, 2016. (R. at 85, 92.) At
Plaintiffs written request, the ALJ held a hearing on
September 20, 2017. (R. at 25-80, 116.) On March 22, 2018,
the ALJ issued a written opinion, denying Plaintiffs claim
and concluding that Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled
under the Act, because she could perform work existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. (R. at 13-21.)
On December 1, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs
request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision as the
final decision of the Commissioner subject to review by this
Court. (R. at 1-3.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits, a
court "will affirm the Social Security
Administration's disability determination 'when an
ALJ has applied correct legal standards and the ALJ's
factual findings are supported by substantial
evidence.'" Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632,
634 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Bird v. Comm's
of Soc. Sec. Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir.
2012)). Substantial evidence requires more than a scintilla
but less than a preponderance, and includes the kind of
relevant evidence that a reasonable mind could accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. Hancock v. Astrue,
667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012); Craig v. Chater,
76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Indeed, "the
substantial evidence standard 'presupposes ... a zone of
choice within which the decision makers can go either way,
without interference by the courts. An administrative
decision is not subject to reversal merely because
substantial evidence would have supported an opposite
decision.'" Dunn v. Colvin, 607 F.
App'x. 264, 274 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Clarke v.
Bowen, 843 F.2d 271, 272-73 (8th Cir. 1988)).
determine whether substantial evidence exists, the court must
examine the record as a whole, but may not "undertake to
re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the
[ALJ]." Hancock, 667 F.3d at 472 (quoting
Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir.
2005)); see also Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct.
1148, 1157 (2019) (holding that the substantial-evidence
inquiry requires case-by-case consideration, with deference
to the presiding ALJ's credibility determinations). In
considering the decision of the Commissioner based on the
record as a whole, the court must "take into account
whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight."
Breeden v. Weinberger, 493 F.2d 1002, 1007 (4th Cir.
1974) (quoting Universal Camera Corp. v. N.L.R.B.,
340 U.S. 474, 488 (1951)). The Commissioner's findings as
to any fact, if substantial evidence in the record supports
the findings, bind the reviewing court to affirm regardless
of whether the court disagrees with such findings.
Hancock, 667 F.3d at 477. If substantial evidence in
the record does not support the ALJ's determination 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
regulations set forth a five-step process that the agency
employs to determine whether disability exists. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4); see Mascio, 780 F.3d at
634-35 (describing the ALJ's five-step sequential
evaluation). To summarize, at step one, the ALJ looks at the
claimant's current work activity. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). At step two, the ALJ asks whether the
claimant's medical impairments meet the regulations'
severity and duration requirements. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). Step three requires the ALJ to determine
whether the medical impairments meet or equal an impairment
listed in the regulations. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
Between steps three and four, the ALJ must assess the
claimant's residual functional capacity
("RFC"), accounting for the most that the claimant
can do despite her physical and mental limitations. §
404.1545(a). At step four, the ALJ assesses whether the
claimant can perform her past work given her RFC. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). Finally, at step five, the ALJ determines
whether the claimant can perform any work existing in the
national economy. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).
THE ALJ'S DECISION
September 20, 2017, the ALJ held a hearing during which
Plaintiff (represented by counsel) and a vocational expert
("VE") testified. (R. at 25-80.) On March 22, 2018,
the ALJ issued a written opinion, finding that Plaintiff did
not qualify as disabled under the Act. (R. at 13-21.)
followed the five-step evaluation process established by the
Social Security Act in analyzing Plaintiffs disability claim.
(R. at 13-21.) At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity between her
alleged onset date (April 1, 2014) and her date last insured
(September 30, 2014). (R. at 15.) At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: organic
mental disorders and anxiety disorders. (R. at 16.) At step
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R.
assessing Plaintiffs RFC, the ALJ found that, through her
date last insured, Plaintiff could perform a full range of
work at all exertional levels, with additional non-exertional
limitations. (R. at 17.) Specifically, Plaintiff could
perform simple, routine tasks and could concentrate for
two-hour increments before requiring a standard break. (R. at
17.) Plaintiff could work in only low-stress environments,
occasionally interact with co-workers and supervisors and
never interact with the general public. (R. at 17.) And
Plaintiff could best work alone and not in tandem with
others. (R. at 17.) At step four, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had no past relevant work. (R. at 20.) At step
five, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy,
including the representative occupations of hand packager,
room attendant, addresser and general lithographic worker.
(R. at 20.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did
not qualify as disabled under the Act. (R. at 21.)
age thirty-six at the time of this Report and Recommendation,
previously worked as a bartender/cook in a restaurant, though
her earnings never rose to the level of substantial gainful
activity. (R. at 196-97, 208-09.) She applied for DIB,
alleging disability from anxiety, depression, anger and the
inability to concentrate, with an alleged onset date of April
1, 2014. (R. at 204, 207.) Plaintiffs appeal to this Court
alleges that the ALJ erred by: (1) assigning little weight to
the opinion of Plaintiff s treating psychiatrist, Dr.
Agarwal; and, (2) failing to order a consultative
examination.. (Pl.'s Mem. at 1-5.) For the reasons set
forth below, the ALJ did not err in her decision.
The ALJ Did Not Err in Assigning Dr. Agarwal's Opinion
argues that the ALJ failed to adequately explain her reasons
for assigning little weight to Dr. Agarwal's opinion and
that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's
decision. (Pl.'s Mem. at 1-5; Reply Br. ("Pl.'s
Reply") (ECF No. 14) at 1-3.) Defendant responds that
the ALJ adequately assessed Dr. Agarwal's opinion and
that substantial evidence supports the weight assigned.