United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division
ROBERT S. GAMBUTI, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
MARTIN REIDINGER, District Judge.
THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 12] and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 15].
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The Plaintiff Robert Gambuti filed an application for disability insurance benefits on October 7, 2010, alleging that he had become disabled as of June 1, 2008. [Transcript ("T.") 180-181]. The Plaintiff's application was denied initially. [T. 127]. The Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") which occurred on November 10, 2011. [T. 36-91]. On November 22, 2011, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. [T. 22-35]. On June 17, 2013, the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. [T. 5-10]. The Plaintiff has exhausted all available administrative remedies, and this case is now ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner is limited to (1) whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). The Court does not review a final decision of the Commissioner de novo. Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986).
The Social Security Act provides that "[t]he 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). The Fourth Circuit has defined "substantial evidence" as "more than a scintilla and [doing] more than creat[ing] a suspicion of the existence of a fact to be established. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Smith v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986) (quoting Perales, 402 U.S. at 401).
The Court may not re-weigh the evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner, even if it disagrees with the Commissioner's decision, so long as there is substantial evidence in the record to support the final decision below. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456; Lester v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 838, 841 (4th Cir. 1982).
III. THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
In determining whether or not a claimant is disabled, the ALJ follows a five-step sequential process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. If the claimant's case fails at any step, the ALJ does not go any further and benefits are denied. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995).
First, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the application is denied regardless of the medical condition, age, education, or work experience of the applicant. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Second, the claimant must show a severe impairment. If the claimant does not show any impairment or combination thereof which significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform work activities, then no severe impairment is shown and the claimant is not disabled. Id . Third, if the impairment meets or equals 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 does not meet the criteria above but is still a severe impairment, then the ALJ reviews the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and the physical and mental demands of work done in the past. If the claimant can still perform that work, then a finding of not disabled is mandated. Id . Fifth, if the claimant has a severe impairment but cannot perform past relevant work, then the ALJ will consider whether the applicant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience enable the performance of other work. If so, then the claimant is not disabled. Id.
V. THE ALJ'S DECISION
On November 22, 2011, ALJ Gonzalez issued a decision denying the Plaintiff's claim. [T. 22-35]. Proceeding to the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's date last insured was December 31, 2014 and that he had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 28, 2009. [T. 27]. The ALJ then found that the medical evidence established the following severe impairments: status-post partial left knee replacement and lumbar disc bulges. [T. 27]. The ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's impairments met or equaled a listing. [T. 29].
The ALJ then assessed the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), finding that the Plaintiff had the ability to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) "except that he suffers from nonexertional limitations that preclude more than occasional crawling, crouching, stooping and the climbing of stairs or ladders." [T. 29]. The ALJ found that the Plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work as a 911 call dispatcher, and that he was not under a disability. [T. 34].
The Plaintiff asserts the following assignments of error: (1) that "[t]he ALJ erred by evaluating and failing to weigh the medical opinion evidence from Dr. Jones, thereby failing to support the residual functional capacity determination by substantial evidence"; (2) that "[t]he ALJ's credibility determination is unsupported by substantial evidence because the ALJ erred in assessing the required factors in determining Plaintiff's credibility"; and (3) that "[t]he ALJ's Step 4 ...