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Whitaker v. Colvin

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

January 21, 2015

CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


TERRENCE W. BOYLE, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for motions for judgment on the pleadings [D.E. 26, 28]. For the reasons detailed below, plaintiffs motion is DENIED and defendant's motion is GRANTED. The decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.


Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on December 13, 2010. In both applications, he alleged a disability beginning on November 15, 2010. The claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on July 10, 2012, via video-conference. In a decision dated October 1, 2012, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 14-22). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review on October 15, 2013, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff commenced this action and filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g) on December 17, 2013. [D.E. 5].


Plaintiff was born on October 4, 1964. He attended special education classes and left school after ninth grade. He obtained his commercial driver's license and was employed as a long-distance truck driver, which is semi-skilled work. Plaintiff reported that he lives alone and was independent with self-care. He also reported that he could read and write, follow maps and maintain a log book. His activities of daily living include attending church and driving.

Plaintiffs medical history includes reports of radiating back pain and headaches. In November, 2010, plaintiff reported to the Emergency Room for chest pain and lightheadedness. He was admitted for acute myocardial infarction. It was also discovered that plaintiff suffered from uncontrolled diabetes after he reported that he had not taken his diabetes medication on two to three months. Plaintiff underwent triple bypass surgery on November 15, 2010. After discharge, he continued to experience chest pain. He had diagnoses of pancreatitis, pericarditis and gastritis.

Over several months, plaintiff continued to complain of radiating chest pain with movement. On August 4, 2011, he underwent surgery to remove two wires, at which time a bacterial infection at the site of the wires was discovered. Plaintiff was placed on antibiotics. After this surgery, plaintiff reported that his chest pain had improved. He was diagnosed with chronic heart failure stage C, New York Heart Association ("NYHA") class I.[1]

Plaintiff also reported vision problems as a result of his uncontrolled diabetes, but treatment notes indicate that there was no diabetic retinopathy and his vision was correctable with glasses. Plaintiff also complained of pain and numbness in his hands. He was diagnosed with polyneuropathy due to diabetes. He was also prescribed an exercise program and referred to a podiatrist for diabetic foot care. At a follow-up appointment in October, 2011, it was noted that his diabetes was stable but not ideally controlled, and he was experiencing no blurred vision.

Plaintiff underwent physical therapy from September, 2011 through November, 2011 for back pain. Plaintiff also stated that he experienced fatigue, but acknowledged that he had been non-complaint with his C-PAP therapy for his OSA. Medical records note that his fatigue was well-controlled with the C-PAP machine when he was compliant.


When a social security claimant appeals a final decision of the Commissioner, the district court's review is limited to the determination of 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 (1971). Substantial evidence is defined as "evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion." Shively v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cit. 1984) (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cit. 1966)). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by such evidence, it must be affirmed. Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cit. 1996).

In making a disability determination, the ALJ engages in a five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650 (4th Cit. 2005). The analysis requires the ALJ to consider the following enumerated factors sequentially. At step one, if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, the claim is denied. At step two, the claim is denied if the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments significantly limiting him or her from performing basic work activities. At step three, the claimant's impairment is compared to those in the Listing of Impairments. See 20 C.P.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. If the impairment is listed in the Listing of Impairments or if it is equivalent to a listed impairment, disability is conclusively presumed. However, if the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment then, at step four, the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") is assessed to determine whether plaintiff can perform his past work despite his impairments. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the analysis moves on to step five: establishing whether the claimant, based on his age, work experience, and RFC can perform other substantial gainful work. 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).

After finding that plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date at step one, the ALJ determined that plaintiffs coronary artery disease; history of myocardial infarction; hypertension; obesity; diabetes mellitus; and obstructive sleep apnea ("OSA") were severe impairments at step two. (Tr. at 16). The AIJ then found that his impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet or equal a Listing impairment. (Id. at 17). The AIJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a full range of light work. (Id. at 18). At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past work as a long-distance truck driver. At step five, the AIJ determined that, based on his age, ...

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