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Moore v. Berryhill

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 3, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Defendant.



         Plaintiff Angalia Moore, appearing pro se, challenges the denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. Defendant has moved for judgment of affirmance (ECF No. 14), and Plaintiff has moved for judgment of reversal (ECF No. 17). For the reasons explained below, Defendant's motion will be GRANTED and Plaintiff's motion will be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 2, 2013, Plaintiff, approaching her 55th birthday, applied for disability benefits, alleging that she was unable to work because of disabling conditions that began on April 10, 2012 (onset date). (Admin. Record (“AR”) 191, ECF No. 7). Plaintiff listed her disabling conditions as depression, asthma, liver disease and thyroid. (See AR 276). Her claim was denied initially on March 22, 2013, and upon reconsideration on June 6, 2013. Plaintiff was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on March 4, 2015. Plaintiff, appearing with a non-attorney representative (AR 150), testified at the hearing, as did an impartial vocational expert, Dr. James Michael Ryan. (See AR 18-28, June 9, 2015 ALJ Dec., ECF No. 7-2; AR 47-80, Tr. of Oral Hrg.). The ALJ found:

1. Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 30, 2017.
2. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 10, 2012, the alleged onset date. 20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.
3. Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: “probable” confusional migraine, asthma, and obesity. 20 CFR 404.1520(c).
4. Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526.
5. Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work.
6. Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a tax preparer, accounts receivable clerk, and an office manager[, ] [which] does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity. 20 CFR 404.1565.
7. Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from April 10, 2012, through the date of this decision (on June 9, 2015). 20 CFR 404.1520(f).

(AR 20, 22, 27). In a letter dated December 31, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1).

         1. Physical Impairments

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff's physical impairments “have caused more than minimal limitation in [Plaintiff's] ability to work” but found “very little objective evidence to support [Plaintiff's] allegations of disabling impairments.” (AR 20). The ALJ also considered Plaintiff's reports and testimony that she had experienced seizures and “seizure-like activity, ” and had a speech impediment, but found no “clinical and/or diagnostic evidence of a seizure disorder or epilepsy” and thus no “medically determinable impairment.” (Id.). Similarly, the ALJ did not “consider” Plaintiff's alleged speech impediment to be a medically determinable impairment partly because of “the lack of a formal diagnosis, ” but also because of Plaintiff's “inconsistent statements” and testimony about its appearance and duration. (AR 21).

         2. Mental Impairments

         The ALJ acknowledged that “[t]he record documents a mental health impairment variously diagnosed” but found no “evidence of mental health concerns or treatment other than the diagnosis of ‘major depression, in remission, '” which “was made [in March 2011] at a court-mandated psychiatric evaluation.” (AR 21). The ALJ determined from the 2011 medical report that Plaintiff had then “endorsed a history of depression, with crying spells and suicidal thoughts[, ]” received therapy between 2008 and 2010, was prescribed medicine “in the past, ” but “had not taken any medication in two years.” (Id.). The ALJ added that Plaintiff's “mental status evaluation was normal.” (Id.)

         The ALJ considered “the four broad functional areas set out in the disability regulations for evaluating mental disorders, ” encompassing “activities of daily living, social functioning, concentration, persistence or pace, and episodes of decompensation, of extended duration” but found that the record contained “no [documented] limitations” on Plaintiff's daily living, social functioning and concentration. (AR 22). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff had “experienced no episodes of decompensation . . . of extended duration, ” and attributed Plaintiff's self-described mental limitations “solely . . . to her physical impairments.” The ALJ concluded: “Because the claimant's medically determinable mental impairments cause no limitation in ...

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