United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division
DEBORAH ELWOOD, Plaintiff.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION
WILLIAM A. WEBB, Magistrate Judge.
This matter is before the Court upon the parties' cross Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings. (DEs 23, 25). The time for filing any responses or replies has expired and the motions are now ripe for adjudication. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), they have been referred to the undersigned for the entry of a Memorandum and Recommendation. For the following reasons, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (DE 23) be DENIED, that the Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (DE 25) be GRANTED and that the Commissioner's final decision be affirmed.
I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits on February 12, 2009, alleging a disability beginning on July 5, 2008. (Tr. 161-71). Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. at 75-89. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") via video-conference on October 14, 2010 and, in a decision dated November 9, 2010, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. Id. at 55-69. The Social Security Administration's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review Appeals Council ("AC") denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 20, 2012, thus making the ALJ's decision the final decision in this matter. Id. at 1-6. Plaintiff appealed that decision to this Court on August 22, 2012. (DE 1-2).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
This Court is authorized to review Defendant's denial of benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides in pertinent part:
The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. The 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).
"Under the Social Security Act, [the Court] must uphold the factual findings of the Secretary if they are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard." Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). "Substantial evidence is... such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). "It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). "In reviewing for substantial evidence, ... [the court should not] undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute... [its] judgment for that of the Secretary." Craig, 76 F.3d at 589. Thus, this Court's review is limited to determining whether Defendant's finding that Plaintiff was not disabled is "supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied." Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).
The Social Security Administration has promulgated the following regulations which establish a sequential evaluation process that must be followed to determine whether a claimant is entitled to disability benefits:
The five step analysis begins with the question of whether the claimant engaged in substantial gainful employment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If not, the analysis continues to determine whether, based upon the medical evidence, the claimant has a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the claimed impairment is sufficiently severe, the third step considers whether the claimant has an impairment that equals or exceeds in severity one or more of the impairments listed in Appendix I of the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d); 20 C.F.R. Part 404, subpart P, App.I. If so the claimant is disabled. If not, the next inquiry considers if the impairment prevents the claimant from returning to past work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a). If the answer is in the affirmative, the final consideration looks to whether the impairment precludes the claimant from performing other work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 177 (4th Cir. 2001).
The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation in this case. First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date, July 5, 2008. (Tr. 60). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: mild reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome/complex regional pain syndrome (RSD/CRPS) with left foot radiculopathy; asthma; chronic episodes of costochondritis; syncope; hypothyroidism; morbid obesity; and depression. ( Id ). However, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. ( Id. at 62). Next, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work with the following limitations: no climbing of ropes, ladders or scaffold at all, and no more than occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling; and no more than occasional exposure to temperature extremes, humidity, environmental irritants and workplace hazards (moving machinery, dangerous heights). ( Id. at 64). The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff the ability to perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks on a regular and continuing basis. ( Id ). The ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. ( Id. at 67). Considering Plaintiff's age, education, work history and ...