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Vieira v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

August 25, 2017

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


          John J. McConnell, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Melody Vieira filed a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income. Her claim was denied initially, and upon reconsideration. Thereafter, Ms. Vieira appeared before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") for a hearing who denied her claim. ECF No. 12 at 23-32. Ms. Vieira is now seeking judicial review of the final administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2015).

         Ms. Vieira was 45 years old at the time of her onset of disability. She completed the eleventh grade. She previously worked as a cashier at a casino and a marker at a novelty factory. Her disabilities include: (1) cervical degenerative disc disease; (2) right shoulder degenerative joint disease?' (3) obesity; (4) major depressive disorder; and (5) post-traumatic stress disorder. ECF No. 12 at 3.

         Ms. Vieira resides in a townhouse with her twin children, ages 19. ECF No. 12-2 at 142. On a typical day, she wakes up at 5:00 a.m., makes coffee, and sits on the couch for the majority of the day. Id. at 151. She does not read or use the computer and drives approximately once per week. Id. at 154. Her children perform the household chores including cooking, cleaning, and doing the laundry. Id. at 152. Often Ms. Vieira stays in her pajamas all day and her children have to encourage her to shower. Id. at 158.

         Ms. Vieira suffers from chronic pain in the right side of her neck/back that radiates into the right shoulder and down the right arm because of a work-related injury. ECF No. 12-1 at 40. Subsequently, Ms. Vieira received treatment from Dr. David J. DiSanto, who evaluated her injury and determined that the injury caused her to remain out of work with a partial or temporary total disability. Occupational physicians at Corporate Care also treated Ms. Vieira and determined that she was capable of returning to "modified duty" work.

         In addition, Ms. Vieira has received treatment from a psychiatrist, Dr. Maria Gonzalez, and a therapist, Ms. Cecile Tetreault, for her depression and anxiety issues. Additionally, prior to the ALJ's decision, state agency consultants assessed Ms. Vieira.

         ALJ Decision

         The ALJ found that Ms. Vieira was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. The ALJ applied the standard five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled. The ALJ found that although Ms. Vieira's impairments are severe, she does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Further, the ALJ found that Ms. Vieira has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) and is capable of performing her past relevant work. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Vieira was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, from the date she filed her application through the date of the ALJ's decision.

         Standard of Review

         "Judicial review of Social Security administrative determinations is authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (1994)." Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 8 (1st Cir. 2001). A district court's role in reviewing the Commissioner's decision is limited. Although questions of law are reviewed de novo, "[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The term "substantial evidence" is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The determination of substantiality must be made upon an evaluation of the record as a whole. Ortiz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991). In reviewing the record, the Court must avoid reinterpreting the evidence or otherwise substituting its own judgment for that of the Secretary. The resolution of conflicts in the evidence is for the Commissioner, not the courts. Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 399 (1971)).


         Ms. Vieira raises three issues on appeal: (i) the ALJ improperly considered evidence of Ms. Vieira's Global Assessment Functioning (GAF) scores; (2) the ALJ erred in evaluating the record medical opinion evidence! and (3) the ALJ failed to follow the proper standards for evaluating credibility. ECF No. 10 at 3. The Court will address each issue in turn.

         GAF Scores

         The record contains GAF scores assigned to Ms. Vieira between thirty-five and fifty-five. The ALJ gave less weight to the doctors who calculated the scores between thirty-five and fifty because those assessments represented only temporary short-term exacerbations in symptoms, which improved in short periods. In her appeal, Ms. Vieira ...

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