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Workman v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

February 27, 2018

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



         This is an action seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying the Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. By Standing Order (Document 4) entered on December 27, 2016, this matter was referred to the Honorable Cheryl A. Eifert, United States Magistrate Judge, for findings of fact and recommendations for disposition. On October 10, 2017, Judge Eifert submitted her Proposed Findings and Recommendations (PF&R) (Document 16), recommending that the Court grant the Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings to the extent that it requests remand, deny the Defendant's request to affirm the decision of the Commissioner, reverse the final decision of the Commissioner, remand this matter pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further administrative proceedings, and dismiss this action from the Court's docket.

         The Court[1] has reviewed the Defendant's Objections to the Report and Recommendation (Document 17) and the Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Proposed Finding and Recommendation (Document 20). The Court has also reviewed the original briefing, the administrative record (Document 9 and attachments), and the PF&R. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the objections should be overruled.

         The Plaintiff, Timmy Workman, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and SSI on December 6, 2013. He ultimately alleged a disability onset date of December 8, 2013, and dropped his claim for DIB. The Plaintiff asserted that he was disabled due to “[l]imited education, mental limitations, can not [sic] read or write, slow learner, can not [sic] remember things learned if able to learn, leg problems, knee problems, limited mobility due to leg and knee problems, has had left leg broken 3 times, depression, [and] anxiety.” (PF&R at 2, quoting Tr. at 220.) His SSI application was denied initially, upon reconsideration, and by the Honorable Toby J. Buel, Sr, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), in a written decision following a hearing. The Appeals Counsel denied Mr. Workman's request for review, and he timely filed this civil action seeking judicial review.

         Mr. Workman was born in 1963, and was 51 years old when the ALJ issued his decision. He left school after the eighth grade, and his work history includes jobs as a general laborer and a farm laborer. He has not worked since before his alleged disability onset date of December 8, 2013, and explained that he left his last job due to his knee problems. The PF&R contains a thorough overview of Mr. Workman's medical history, which is not the subject of the objections. Therefore, the Court incorporates those findings herein. In brief summary, Mr. Workman received sporadic treatment and tests related to knee pain, as well as occasional shoulder, neck, and back pain. He lacked insurance, and did not receive regular treatment. The ALJ determined that Mr. Workman suffers from left knee deformity, status post left tibia fracture, and degenerative arthritis. The ALJ also found that Mr. Workman has borderline intellectual functioning. The Magistrate Judge's proposed ruling and the objections relate primarily to Mr. Workman's asserted mental/intellectual disability, and so the Court will also address that issue.

         A state agency medical consultant, Dr. Joseph Richard, found that Mr. Workman had “mild restriction of activities of daily living; moderate difficulties maintaining social functioning; moderate difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, and no episodes of decompensation.” (Tr. at 17.) Dr. Richard also opined that Mr. Workman “was not significantly limited in his ability to remember locations and work-like procedures or understand and remember very short and simple instructions; however, [he] was moderately limited in his ability to understand and remember detailed instructions.” (PF&R at 16.) Dr. Richard also found moderate limitations in ability to carry out detailed instructions, attention, concentration, simple decision-making, pace, ability to complete a normal workday, need for frequent breaks, and interaction with the public. Ultimately, Dr. Richard “concluded that [Mr. Workman] had the residual functional capacity to complete work-like activity in a low stress work environment performing simple, routine tasks that did not carry any production requirement and included minimal contact with the public and accommodation for [his] physical limitations.” (PF&R at 17.) The ALJ explained that Mr. Workman was able to perform personal care tasks and help his parents with chores, but spent most of his day watching television. The ALJ found that Mr. Workman spent time with his family, but does not spend time with friends or participate in other social activities.

         The ALJ accepted some findings from Larry Legg, M.A., who performed a consultative psychological evaluation. Mr. Legg reported deficiencies in Mr. Workman's concentration and pace. Mr. Legg also administered a Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale test, which resulted in a full-scale IQ score of 63. Because Mr. Workman did not have a previous diagnosis of mental retardation, Mr. Legg diagnosed him with borderline intellectual functioning. Mr. Legg also administered a Neurobehavioral Cognitive Status Examination, which returned average results in orientation, attention, comprehension, repetitions, naming, memory, and judgment, but mild limitations in calculations and moderate limitations in similarities and constructions. Mr. Legg opined that those limitations “reflected long-standing learning disabilities.” (PF&R at 15.)

         Mr. Workman and his nephew, who helped him complete his disability application, stated “that he was illiterate, was a slow learner, had mental limitations, had a limited education, and quit school after the eighth grade.” (PF&R at 17.) An earlier medical record contains a notation that Mr. Workman was illiterate, as well. They also indicated that Mr. Workman was in special education classes at school. His school records do not indicate whether he was in special education classes. Grades are recorded as “S” for “satisfactory” or “S-” for “less than satisfactory.” In his final year, most of his grades were “S-” although previous years contained a mix of satisfactory and less than satisfactory grades. The school records also contain scores from educational examinations, although there is no key, rendering the results difficult to decipher. The composite score for an exam taken in the sixth grade reflects below-grade-level results. The ALJ, relying on expert testimony from Dr. Marshall Tessnear, a psychological expert, concluded that the school record was indicative of an IQ of greater than 70.


         Disability under the SSA is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social Security Administration utilizes a five-step sequential inquiry to determine eligibility for social security disability benefits.

         If a claimant is determined not to be disabled at one step, the evaluation does not proceed to the next step. See Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653-54 (4th Cir. 2005)). The Fourth Circuit has summarized the five-step process as follows:

the ALJ asks at step one whether the claimant has been working; at step two, whether the claimant's medical impairments meet the regulations' severity and duration requirements; at step three, whether the medical impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in the regulations; at step four, whether the claimant can perform her past work given the limitations caused by her medical impairments; and at step five, whether the claimant can perform other work.

Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th Cir. 2015). “If the first three steps do not lead to a conclusive determination, the ALJ then assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity, which is “the most” the claimant “can still do despite” physical and mental limitations that affect her ability to work.” (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1)). Id. at 635. If the claimant is able to perform his or her past work, the ALJ can find the claimant not to be disabled. Id. If the claimant is not able to perform his or her past work, the ALJ proceeds to step five, where “the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the claimant can perform other work that ‘exists in significant numbers in the national economy, ' considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.” Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v); 416.960(c)(2); 416.1429).

         STANDARD ...

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