United States District Court, District of Columbia
SHEILA M. TROY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
D.BATES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Sheila Troy challenges the denial of her claim for Social
Security Disability Benefits and Supplemental Security Income
Benefits. On August 25, 2016, Magistrate Judge Deborah
Robinson, to whom this matter had been referred for full case
management, issued her Report and Recommendation. Judge
Robinson recommended that the decision of the Administrative
Law Judge ("ALJ") be affirmed. Thereafter, Troy
filed timely Objections to the Report and Recommendation
pursuant to Local Civil Rule 72.3(b), and defendant, the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, filed a response. For
the reasons set forth in the Report and Recommendation and
those explained further below, the Court finds that the ALJ
properly denied Troy's claim. The Court accordingly
adopts the Report and Recommendation, denies plaintiff's
motion for judgment of reversal, and grants defendant's
motion for judgment of affirmance.
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
qualify for disability insurance benefits under Titles II and
XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), a
claimant must establish that she is "disabled." 42
U.S.C. §§ 423, 1382. Under the Act, disability
means 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."
Id. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also id §
l382c(a)(3)(A). With certain exceptions not present here, an
individual is disabled "only if [her] physical or mental
impairment or impairments are of such severity that [she] is
not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot,
considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy." Id. §§
must employ a five-step sequential evaluation process to
determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The claimant
bears the burden of proof on the first four steps. Butler
v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 992, 997 (D.C. Cir. 2004). The
claimant must first show that she is not presently engaged in
"substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R.
§§404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). Second, she
must show that she has a "severe medically determinable
physical or mental impairment." Id.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Third,
she must show that her impairment meets or equals an
impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii). If so, the claimant is deemed disabled;
if not, the ALJ will assess the claimant's residual
function capacity ("RFC"), which reflects
"what an individual can still do despite his or her
limitations." Ross v. Astrue, 636 F.Supp.2d
127, 132 (D.D.C. 2009). Fourth, the claimant must show that
she is incapable of performing her "past relevant
work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404. 1520(a)(4)(iv),
416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant has satisfied the first
four steps, the Commissioner bears the burden at step five of
demonstrating that the claimant is still able to perform
"other work" based on a consideration of her RFC,
age, education and work experience. Id. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 446.920(a)(4)(v); Butler, 353
F.3d at 997.
applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income benefits on September 26, 2011 and September
13, 2011, respectively, alleging that her disability began on
March 18, 2010 due to a brain tumor, diabetes, and carpal
tunnel syndrome. See Administrative Record
("A.R.") [ECF Nos. 9-1 through 9-13] at 38, 239,
242. Troy's claims were denied initially on January 25,
2012, and again upon reconsideration on July 27, 2012.
Id. at 38. Thereafter, Troy filed a timely request
for a hearing on September 7, 2012, and one was held before
an ALJ on November 15, 2013. Id. In a decision
issued December 20, 2013, the ALJ denied Troy's claim,
finding she was not "disabled" under the Act.
Id. at 45.
performing the five-step evaluation process, the ALJ found
(at steps one and two) that Troy had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability
onset date and that she had the following severe impairments:
"pituitary adenoma, status post endoscopic resection
with septoplasty and inferior turbinectomy in March 2010;
rhinosinusitis; GERD with muscle tension dysphoria; diabetes
mellitus; asthma; bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, left
worse than right; peripheral vascular disease with diabetic
polyneuropathy; thoracic/lumbosacral neuritis/radiculitis;
and degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine."
Id. at 40. At step three, the ALJ determined that
Troy did not have an impairment that met or equaled an
impairment listed in Appendix 1. Id. at 41. And at
step four, the ALJ found that Troy was not capable of
performing her past relevant work as a data entry operator.
Id. at 45. Finally, after considering the entire
record, the ALJ found that Troy had the RFC to perform
sedentary work in that she can occasionally lift and/or carry
ten pounds, frequently lift and/or carry less than ten
pounds, stand and/or walk about six hours in an eight hour
day, sit for a total of about six hours in an eight hour day,
and frequently reach, handle, finger, and feel. Id.
at 41. Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ
determined that Troy was capable of performing past relevant
work as a computer security specialist, and hence she was not
disabled. Id. at 45. Troy sought review of the
ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council, which denied her
request for review, making the ALJ's ruling the
Commissioner's final decision.
exhausted her administrative remedies, Troy filed this
lawsuit seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This Court referred the
case to a magistrate judge for full case management.
See June 16, 2015 Referral Order [ECF No. 3].
Thereafter, Troy filed a motion for judgment of reversal and
the Commissioner moved for judgment of affirmance. Troy
alleged that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to provide
specific reasons for finding Troy's allegations
concerning her impairments were only partially credible; (2)
failing to properly weigh the relevant opinion evidence in
making the RFC determination; and (3) making the Step 4
determination based on testimony from a vocational expert in
response to an incomplete hypothetical. See Pl's
Mot. for J. of Reversal [ECF No. 13] at 9-18. Defendant
responded that "[b]ecause substantial evidence supports
the ALJ's conclusions, Plaintiffs challenges should be
dismissed, and the ALJ's decision should be
affirmed." See Def's Mot. for J. of Affirmance [ECF
No. 14] at 2.
August 25, 2016 Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge
Robinson recommended that the Court deny Troy's motion
and grant defendant's motion. See Report &
Recommendation ("R&R") [ECF No. 18] at 1,
13-14. Specifically, she found that the ALJ's credibility
determination, RFC determination, and Step 4 determination
were all supported by substantial evidence. Id. at
6-13. Plaintiff filed timely but brief Objections to the
Report and Recommendation on September 7, 2016, pursuant to
Local Rule 72.3(b). See Pl's Objections to
R&R [ECF No. 19]. Defendant responded, asking this Court
to adopt the Report and Recommendation in full. See
Def's Resp. to Pl's Objections [ECF No. 20] at 2.
claimant may seek judicial review in a district court of
"any final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security made after a hearing to which [s]he was a
party." 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g). The court must
uphold any decision that "is based on substantial
evidence in the record and correctly applies the relevant
legal standards." Butler, 353 F.3d at 999;
Smith v. Bowen 826 F.2d 1120, 1121 (D.C.Cir. 1987).
"Substantial evidence is 'such relevant evidence as
a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'" Butler, 353 F.3d at 999
(quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
(1971)). It "requires more than a scintilla, but . . .
less than a preponderance of the evidence." Id.
D.C. Circuit has recognized that "[s]ubstantial-evidence
review is highly deferential to the agency fact-finder."
Rossello ex rel. Rossello v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 1181,
1185 (D.C. Cir. 2008). The claimant bears the burden of
demonstrating that the ALJ's decision was not based on
substantial evidence or contained an error of law.
Lane-Rauth v. Barnhart,437 F.Supp.2d 63, 64 (D.D.C.
2006). The reviewing court must determine whether the ALJ
"has analyzed all of the evidence and has sufficiently
explained the weight he has given to obviously probative
exhibits." Id. at 65 (quoting Butler,
353 F.3d at 999). The court, however, "is not permitted
to re-weigh the evidence and reach its own
determination." Maynor v. Heckler, 597 F.Supp.
457, 460 (D.D.C. 1984); Butler, 353 F.3d at 999
("[W]e are ...