Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
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.

Gregory v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

September 3, 2019

ANGELA GREGORY, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1]Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          David J. Novak United States Magistrate Judge

         On 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 ("Defendant").

         Plaintiff 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.[2] 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.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On 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.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In 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)).

         To 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 Cir. 1987).

         SSA 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).

         III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         On 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.)

         The ALJ 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. at 16.)

         In 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.)

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff, 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.

         A. The ALJ Did Not Err in Assigning Dr. Agarwal's Opinion Little Weight.

         Plaintiff 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. ...


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.