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Massey v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia, Elkins

November 9, 2018

TAMMY S. MASSEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ROBERT W. TRUMBLE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case arises from the denial of Plaintiff Tammy S. Massey's (“Plaintiff”) Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Title XVI application for supplemental security income (“SSI”). After Plaintiff's applications proceeded through the administrative process, a United States Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Karl Alexander, concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Counsel was denied, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (“Commissioner”), the acting Commissioner of Social Security. Now, Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. Because the Commissioner's final decision to deny Plaintiff's claim for DIB and SSI contains no legal error and is supported by substantial evidence, the undersigned reports and recommends that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 16] be DENIED and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 19] be GRANTED.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On or about April 16, 2014, Plaintiff filed a claim for DIB, and on or about July 10, 2014, Plaintiff filed a claim for SSI. R. 59, 157. On both applications, Plaintiff alleged that her disability began on September 28, 2013. Id. Plaintiff's claim for DIB was initially denied on June 27, 2014. R. 86. Plaintiff's claims for DIB and SSI were denied upon reconsideration on August 8, 2014. R. 94, 97. After these denials, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing. R. 100. On June 15, 2016, a video hearing was held before the ALJ. R. 37. The ALJ presided over the hearing from Morgantown, West Virginia. Id. Plaintiff, represented by Ambria Adkins, Esq., appeared and testified from Wheeling, West Virginia. Id. Larry Ostrowski, a vocational expert, also appeared and testified at the hearing. Id. On February 28, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. R. 28. On February 20, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 1.

         On April 12, 2018, Plaintiff, through counsel, Jan Dils, Esq., filed a Complaint in this Court to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Compl., ECF No. 1. The Commissioner, through counsel Helen Campbell Altmeyer, Assistant United States Attorney, filed her Answer and the Administrative Record of the proceedings on June 21, 2018. Answer, ECF No. 9; Admin. R., ECF No. 10. Soon thereafter, Plaintiff and the Commissioner filed their Motions for Summary Judgment and supporting briefs. Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 16; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 19. Neither party filed a response. Oral argument on the parties' motions was held before the undersigned on November 7, 2018.

         The matter is now before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation to the District Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule of Civil Procedure 9.02(a). Having reviewed the parties' motions and the administrative record, and having heard the parties' oral argument, the undersigned now issues the following Report and Recommendation.

         III. BACKGROUND

         A. Personal History

         Plaintiff was born on March 30, 1971 and was forty-three years old at the time she filed her claims for DIB and SSI. R. 40, 59, 157. She is 5'7” and weighs approximately 247 pounds. R. 59. Plaintiff has never been married, but she lives in a house with Michael Runewicz and her two daughters. R. 157, 200. Plaintiff and Mr. Runewicz do not present themselves as husband and wife. Id. Plaintiff graduated high school and completed a 15-month medical secretary certificate program. R. 40. She has never worked as a medical secretary. Id. Prior to the alleged onset date of disability, Plaintiff worked for fifteen years at Family Dollar as a full-time assistant manager. R. 41. Plaintiff alleges that she is permanently and totally disabled due to “diabetes, migraines, degenerative disc disease, knee pain-degenerating, anemia, healy [sic] tendonitis in her left foot, and psoriatic arthritis in both hands.” R. 59, 68, 76, 86.

         B. Medical History

         In accordance with the Court's Order Directing Filing of Briefs, the parties were required to produce a stipulation of facts in order to provide the Court with a chronology in narrative form of Plaintiff's relevant medical history. ECF No. 12, at 2. Accordingly, the undersigned relies upon those stipulated facts throughout this report and recommendation and will not reproduce them herein. See ECF No. 16-1, at 2-5.[1]

         IV. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS

         To be disabled under the Social Security Act, a claimant must meet the following criteria:

[The] individual . . . [must have a] physical or mental impairment or impairments . . . of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. . . . ‘[W]ork which exists in the national economy' means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). The Social Security Administration uses the following five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled:

(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity, if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled.
(ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the duration requirement [of twelve months] . . . or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are not disabled.
(iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of our listings . . . and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are disabled.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). “If your impairment(s) does not meet or equal a listed impairment, we will assess and make a finding about your residual functional capacity [(“RFC”)] based on all the relevant medical and other evidence in your case record, as explained ...


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