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Edmonds v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 19, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Teresia Edmonds (“Plaintiff” or “Edmonds”) brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying her claims for a period of disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), disabled widow's benefits (“DWB”), and supplemental security income. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Based on the court's review of the record and the briefs submitted by the parties, the court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be affirmed.

         I. Proceedings Below

         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and DWB on February 24, 2014. (Tr. 67, 91). She also filed an application for supplemental security income on February 6, 2014. (Tr. 79). In both of her applications, Plaintiff alleged her disability began on June 28, 2009. (Tr. 67, 79, 92). Plaintiff's initial applications were denied by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on May 9, 2014. (Tr. 78, 90, 102). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge on June 11, 2014. (Tr. 123). The hearing was set for December 7, 2015 with Administrative Law Judge Renee Blackmon Hagler (“the ALJ”). (Tr. 133). In her decision dated January 12, 2016, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability within the meaning of Sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act from June 28, 2009 through January 12, 2016. (Tr. 33). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 11, 2016. (Tr. 1-5). This denial was the final decision of the Commissioner, and therefore a proper subject for this court's appellate review.

         II. Facts

         Plaintiff was born on August 19, 1960, and was 48 at the time of her alleged onset date. (Tr. 67). She alleges that she has been disabled since that time due to emotional stress and arthritis. (Tr. 67, 79, 92). Plaintiff has a high school education and her last employment as a Walmart customer service representative ended on February 5, 2009. (Tr. 44-45). She quit her job with Walmart after her son was diagnosed with autism. (Tr. 261). Plaintiff alleges that during her time at Walmart, she experienced pain in her back and would be limping by the end of the day. (Tr. 52).

         Plaintiff did not seek medical treatment until April 12, 2014, when she went in for a consultative physical examination with Dr. Ronald Borlaza complaining of anxiety and chronic pain in her lower back, right thigh, and groin. (Tr. 25, 260). Dr. Borlaza noted that Plaintiff could perform common household chores, including washing dishes, cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, vacuuming, sweeping, and making her bed. (Tr. 260). Dr. Borlaza performed a physical examination and diagnosed Plaintiff with chronic right thigh and groin pain, chronic low back pain, and anxiety. (Tr. 263). He concluded that Plaintiff had no limitations for standing and sitting, had a maximum walking limitation of 6 to 8 hours, and could lift 100 pounds occasionally and 50 pounds frequently. (Tr. 263).

         Plaintiff also underwent a consultative psychological evaluation with Dr. Mary Arnold on April 15, 2014. (Tr. 26, 266). Dr. Arnold found that Plaintiff was alert, had a subdued mood and “congruent affect, ” and based on her global assessment of functioning (GAF) level did not experience anything greater than moderate functional deficits. (Tr. 26, 267-68). Plaintiff told Dr. Arnold that she was able to clean the house, do laundry, take her son to school, run errands, and shop. (Tr. 267). Dr. Arnold evaluated Plaintiff as having a global assessment of functioning (GAF) level of 56, indicating that Plaintiff could have moderate difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning. (Tr. 26, 268).

         On April 23, 2014 Plaintiff visited Dr. Rommel Go to establish care. (Tr. 26, 272). She reported experiencing depression, anxiety, and insomnia. (Tr. 274). Dr. Go reported that there was no observed “anxiety, delusion, loose associations, flight of thought, stressed faces and or weeping.” (Tr. 274). Dr. Go prescribed Plaintiff medication, which ostensibly began to control Plaintiff's symptoms. (Tr. 274).

         In May 2014, Plaintiff saw Dr. Raymond Fernandez, who conducted an extensive examination. (Tr. 301). Dr. Fernandez found that Plaintiff had no depression, anxiety, or agitation, but suffered from hypertensive heart disease and possible aortic stenosis. (Tr. 307).

         III. ALJ Decision

         Disability under the Act is determined using a five-step test. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). “Substantial gainful activity” is work activity that involves doing significant physical or mental activities for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572. Work activity may be considered substantial even if it is part-time or if the claimant does less, gets paid less, or has less responsibility than when she worked before. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a). Even if no profit is realized, work activity may still be considered gainful so long as it is the kind of work usually done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(b). If the ALJ finds that the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity, then the claimant cannot claim disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).

         Second, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a severe medical impairment or a combination of impairments that is severe. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, then she may not claim disability. Id. If the impairment is not expected to result in death, the claimant must also meet the 12-month duration requirement. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509.

         Third, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant's impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 404.1525, and 404.1526. If the claimant meets or equals a listed impairment and meets the duration requirement, she will be found disabled without considering age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).

         If the claimant does not meet the requirements for disability under the third step, she may still be found disabled under steps four and five of the analysis. The ALJ must first determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), which refers to the claimant's ability to work notwithstanding her impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). In the fourth step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has the RFC to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant is capable of performing past relevant work, then the claimant is ...

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