United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Bryson City Division
RICHARD L. VOORHEES, District Judge.
THIS MATTER is before the Court on cross motions for Summary Judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docs. 16, 18).
I. PROCEDURAL AND BACKGROUND FACTS
Jeffery Eric Baldwin filed for Title II Period of Disability and Disability Insurance benefits on September 16, 2010 (Tr. 17, 61). Plaintiff then filed for Title XVI Supplemental Security Income Benefits on September 16, 2010. Plaintiff's claims were denied on December 6, 2010. (Tr. 17, 42). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") via teleconference and the conference was held on January 13, 2013. (Tr. 17, 53). The ALJ found he was not disabled under sections 216(i), 223(d) and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 17-18). Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, but the request was denied in August of 2012. (Tr. 6-9). Plaintiff brought this claim in October of 2012 under 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
Plaintiff was born on July 15, 1963 and has a high school education. (Tr 61, 240). Plaintiff had a consistent work history with past relevant work as a telephone cable splicer and telephone installer/repairer. (Tr. 238). Prior to September 2010, Plaintiff jumped sixty-seven feet from the roof of a barn injuring his lower back and resulting in two compound fractures. (Tr. 173-74; 239). Plaintiff was given pain medications, wore a back brace at all times and could not lift, push, or pull anything over eight pounds. (Tr. 159). After the jump, Plaintiff underwent L1 and L3 kyphoplasties surgery in September of 2010. (Tr. 242). After surgery, Plaintiff complained of continuous severe pain of his lower back and leg and complained that he could not sit for long periods. (Tr. 242).
Plaintiff is severely impaired with degenerative disc disease of the spine. (Tr. 19). The ALJ reviewed listing 1.04 (Disorders of the Spine) and did not find that Plaintiff had nerve root compression, spinal arachnoiditis, or lumbar spinal stenosis as required by the listing; and therefore, Plaintiff's impairment did not meet one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 19). At step five, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work if allowed a sit/stand option. (Tr. 20); 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). The vocational expert ("VE") testified that Plaintiff's past work as a telephone installer/repairer was medium, skilled with an SVP of 6, and that his work as a cable splicer was a medium with an SVP of 3. (Tr. 254). The VE concluded that Plaintiff could not perform any of his past relevant work, but that jobs exist in the regional and national economy that Plaintiff could perform with a sit/stand option. (Tr. 254-256).
II. STANDARD REVIEW
Judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner is authorized under 42 U.S.C § 405(g) and is limited to consideration of (1) whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Hays v. Sullivan , 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla of evidence, " but may be somewhat less than a preponderance. Craig v. Chater , 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). It is evidence that a reasonable mind would find as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson , 402 U.S. at 401. District Court's review of the Secretary's decision is not de novo. Smith v. Schweiker , 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1990).
Instead, the District Court must uphold the Commissioner's decision even when the reviewing court would have come to a different conclusion, as long as the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Lester v. Schweiker , 683 F.2d 838, 841 (4th Cir. 1982). A court may not re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner while reviewing whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Craig , 76 F.3d 585 at 589. The ALJ has the ultimate responsibility to weigh the evidence and resolve any conflicts. Hays , 907 F.2d at 1456.
III. The ALJ's Evaluation Process
The ALJ must follow a five-step process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. First, the claimant must not be involved in substantial gainful activity, or the claimant's application for disability is denied regardless of medical condition, age, education, or work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Second, the claimant must demonstrate a severe impairment. If the claimant does not show any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limit the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform work, then the claimant is not disabled. Id. Third, if the claimant's severe impairment meets one of the listed impairments of Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation 4, the claimant is disabled regardless of age, education or work experience. Id. Fourth, if the impairment is severe but does not equal a listing, then the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and the physical and mental demands of work done in the past. If the ALJ finds the claimant can perform his past relevant work, then claimant is not disabled. Ultimately, if the claimant cannot perform his relevant past work and has a severe impairment, then the ALJ considers whether the claimant's RFC, age, education, and past work experience enable the performance of other work. Id. If the claimant can perform other work in the national or local economy, the claimant is not disabled. Here, the ALJ concluded that the claimant was not disabled at step five. Although Plaintiff was severely impaired, ALJ found Plaintiff could perform other work.
The issues on appeal are (1) whether the ALJ was required to order a consultative examination or further develop the record; (2) whether the ALJ's credibility determination is supported by substantial evidence; (3) whether the ALJ properly evaluated the subjective evidence; and (4) whether the ALJ's RFC ...