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Edwards v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

September 9, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


CATHERINE C. EAGLES, District Judge.

Plaintiff Esther Sunday Edwards brought this action to obtain review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for supplemental security income. The Court has before it the certified administrative record and cross-motions for judgment.


Ms. Edwards filed an application for supplemental security income in February of 2010 contending she became disabled on January 12, 2005. (Tr. at 152-58, 174.)[2] The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. ( Id. at 47-75.) Ms. Edwards requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). ( Id. at 108.) After a hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms. Edwards was not disabled under the Act. ( Id. at 76-91.) The Appeals Council denied a request for review, making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of review. ( Id. at 4-8.)


The scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is specific and narrow. Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986). Review is limited to determining if there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In reviewing for substantial evidence, the Court does not re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). The issue before the Court, therefore, is not whether Ms. Edwards is disabled but whether the Commissioner's finding that Ms. Edwards is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and was reached based upon a correct application of the relevant law. Id.


The ALJ followed the well-established five-step sequential analysis to ascertain whether the claimant is disabled, which is set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. See Albright v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). The ALJ determined at step one that Ms. Edwards had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 19, 2010, the date the application was filed. (Tr. at 81.) The ALJ next found at step two that Ms. Edwards had the following severe impairments: hypertension, status post rotator cuff repair, asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome ("CTS"), hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, obesity, depression, and anxiety. ( Id. ) At step three, the ALJ found that Ms. Edwards did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to, one listed in Appendix 1. ( Id. ) The ALJ then determined that Ms. Edwards retained the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with the following additional limitations: occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; occasional balancing; no climbing of ropes, ladders, and scaffolds; no concentrated exposure to hazards, fumes, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation; no repetitive reaching overhead; and frequent handling and fingering. ( Id. at 83.) The ALJ also limited Ms. Edwards to simple, routine repetitive tasks, in a low-production environment subject to only routine changes, and without public contact. ( Id. ) At the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Ms. Edwards had no past relevant work. ( Id. at 87.) At step five, the ALJ determined that there were jobs which Ms. Edwards could perform consistent with her RFC, age, education, and work experience. ( Id. at 87-88.)


Ms. Edwards contends that the ALJ's RFC finding and credibility determination were flawed because the ALJ failed to properly account for her shoulder, wrist and knee/leg pain, and failed to consider all the relevant regulatory factors. She also contends that the ALJ erred further by failing to mention in her decision all of Ms. Edwards' moderate limitations and to include them in the RFC as well as the hypothetical question to the Vocational Expert ("VE").

A. The ALJ's RFC and Credibility Determinations Are Supported by Substantial Evidence.

Ms. Edwards challenges the ALJ's conclusions at Step 2 that Ms. Edwards' statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible to the extent they are inconsistent with the RFC, specifically as that finding relates to her right shoulder, her CTS, and her left knee/leg.

The "RFC is a measurement of the most a claimant can do despite [the claimant's] limitations." Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 561 (4th Cir. 2006). The RFC includes both a "physical exertional or strength limitation" that assesses the claimant's "ability to do sedentary, light, medium, heavy, or very heavy work, " as well as "nonexertional limitations (mental, sensory, or skin impairments)." Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 265 (4th Cir. 1981). The "RFC is to be determined by the ALJ only after [the ALJ] considers all relevant evidence of a claimant's impairments and any related symptoms ( e.g., pain)." Hines, 453 F.3d at 562-63. An ALJ need not discuss every piece of evidence in determining the RFC. See, e.g., Black v. Apfel, 143 F.3d 383, 386 (8th Cir. 1998); Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 308 (7th Cir. 1995); Matney v. Colvin, No. 1:09-CV-229, 2013 WL 1788590, *3 (M.D. N.C. April 26, 2013). What is required is "an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [the] conclusion." Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000); Matney, 2013 WL 1788590, at *3.

As for the question of a claimant's credibility, in Craig v. Chater , the Fourth Circuit provides a two-part test for evaluating a claimant's statements about symptoms. "First, there must be objective medical evidence showing the existence of a medical impairment(s) which results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities and which could reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other symptoms alleged.'" 76 F.3d at 594 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.929(b) and 404.1529(b)) (internal alterations omitted). Second, if the ALJ determines that such an impairment exists, the second part of the test then requires her to ...

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