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Dunn v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

December 22, 2014

TAMMY DUNN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

Tammy Dunn, Plaintiff, Pro se, Goldsboro, NC.

For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Mary Ellen Russell, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, Baltimore, MD.



This matter is before the court on the parties' cross-Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings (D.E. 18, 19) to determine whether substantial evidence supports an administrative law judge's (" ALJ") decision that Plaintiff was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act (" the Act"). 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 (D.E. 18) be DENIED, that the Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (D.E. 19) be GRANTED and that the Commissioner's final decision be affirmed.


Plaintiff Tammy Dunn (" Dunn") protectively filed an application for a period of disability and diability insurance benefits on November 26, 2010. (Tr. 118.) Her application alleged a disability that began on October 5, 2010. (Id.) Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 53, 63.) An ALJ held a hearing on July 31, 2012 and issued a decision finding that Dunn was not disabled on November 9, 2012. (Tr. 12-19.) The ALJ found that Dunn had the following severe impairments: obesity, diabetes mellitus, scoliosis, and carpel tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 14.) The ALJ also found that her impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet or equal an impairment listed under 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 15.) The ALJ determined that Dunn had the residual functional capacity (" RFC") to perform " the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) with frequent, but not continuous use of the hands." (Id.) The ALJ further determined that Dunn was able to perform her past work as a day care provider and that this work did not require activities precluded by the constraints of her RFC. (Tr. 18.) Thus, the ALJ found that Dunn was not disabled. (Id.)

Dunn unsuccessfully sought review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 1-4.) Acting pro se, she then commenced this action by filing a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g) on March 18, 2014. (D.E. 4.)


When a social security claimant appeals a final decision of the Commissioner, the district court's review is limited to determining whether, based on the entire administrative record, there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's findings. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). Substantial evidence is defined as " such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Perales, 402 U.S. at 401. Substantial evidence is greater than a mere scintilla, but it may be less than a preponderance. Williamson v. Apfel, 155 F.3d 564 (4th Cir. 1998). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by such evidence, it must be affirmed. Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996).

In making a disability determination, the ALJ engages in a sequential five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650 (4th Cir. 2005). The burden of proof is on the claimant for the first four steps of this inquiry, but shifts to the Commissioner at the fifth step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). At step one, the claimant must prove she is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. At step two, the claimant must show that she has a " severe" impairment or combination of impairments significantly limiting her from performing basic work activities. At step three, the claimant must establish that her impairment meets or is medically equivalent to one of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1.

If the claimant shows by a preponderance of evidence that he has a statutory impairment under step three, the ALJ must conclusively presume that she has a disability and the analysis ends. Tune v. Astrue, 760 F.Supp.2d 555, 561 (E.D. N.C. 2011) (citing Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 141, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987)). However, if the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment then, at step four, the ALJ assesses the claimant's RFC to determine whether claimant can perform her past work despite her impairments. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the analysis moves on to step five: establishing whether the claimant can perform other substantial gainful work given her age, work experience, and RFC.


Dunn's Complaint alleges the same problem that she argued before the ALJ: the combination of her obesity, diabetes mellitus, scoliosis, and carpel tunnel syndrome renders her unable to work. (D.E. 4.) She does not contend that the ALJ made any specific errors in his decision on her claim nor provide any evidence to substantiate her ongoing complaints. Our review is limited to whether the ALJ had substantial evidence for his conclusions in the five-step evaluation process.

At step one of the evaluation process, the ALJ determined whether Dunn continued to engage in " substantial gainful activity" during the period of her alleged disability. The ALJ decided this issue in Dunn's favor, finding that she had continued to work as a daycare provider during her alleged disability but that this work was not " substantial" activity. (Tr. 14.) The ALJ supported his decision by Dunn's own testimony that she had continued to care for children in her home, but that she had reduced the number of children she formerly cared for to a ...

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