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Smith v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

June 3, 2015

AMY SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM L. OSTEEN, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Amy Smith ("Plaintiff") initiated this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), as amended and codified at 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits under Title II of the Act ("SSDI") and Supplemental Security Income benefits under Title XVI of the Act ("SSI").

Plaintiff subsequently filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Doc. 8), and the Commissioner has filed its own Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 12). Additionally, the administrative record has been certified to this court for review.[1]

For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion will be granted, Plaintiff's motion will be denied, and this case will be dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed an application for SSDI and SSI benefits on May 15, 2006, alleging a disability beginning on July 31, 2002. The claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. After a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") in April 2009 (Tr. at 64-101), the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision for Plaintiff granting her application for SSI benefits after finding that Plaintiff was disabled as of November 26, 2008.[2] (Id. at 111.)

Despite this partially favorable decision, Plaintiff filed an appeal with the Appeals Council. On appeal, the Appeals Council vacated the entire decision, including those parts favorable to Plaintiff. (Id. at 125.) Among other things, the Appeals Council found that the medical evidence did not show November 26, 2008 to be "medically significant." (Id. at 126.) The Appeals Council remanded for further consideration, specifically ordering that the ALJ:

Further develop the medical record. In doing so, obtain additional evidence including, if warranted and available, consultative examinations and medical source statements about what the claimant can still do despite the impairments. If necessary, obtain evidence from a medical expert to clarify the date of onset (20 CFR 404.1527(f) and 416.927(f) and Social Security Ruling 83-20).

(Id.)

A second hearing was held on December 16, 2010 (Id. at 28-63), and, in a decision dated January 25, 2011, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application.[3] (Id. at 10.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: Townes-Brock syndrome; right rotator cuff tendonitis; hearing loss; poor vision; depression; anxiety; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and cannabis abuse. (Id. at 12.) The ALJ also found that her impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet or equal a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. (Id. at 13.)

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC")[4] to perform sedentary work, except as follows:

[Plaintiff] can perform fingering and handling with her right hand on a frequent basis only, and can do no overhead reaching with her right upper extremity. [Plaintiff] is precluded from working in noisy environments, from using a telephone, and can only frequently use near and far visual acuity. In addition, [Plaintiff] is precluded from balancing or climbing, is limited to only occasional stooping, crouching, kneeling, and crawling, and cannot work at heights or around dangerous machinery. [Plaintiff] is also limited to work involving only simple, routine, repetitive tasks, and can have only occasional interaction with co-workers and supervisors. Further, [Plaintiff] is unable to work at a production rate.

(Id. at 14.)

In finding that Plaintiff could perform sedentary work (with the exceptions listed above), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could sit for 6 hours and walk or stand for 2 hours in an 8-hour work day, as well as lift and carry up to 10 pounds occasionally and 5 pounds frequently. (Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a) (providing the definition of "sedentary work" in SSI cases)).) This determination on remand differs from the one made in the original hearing. There, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's RFC made it so Plaintiff could not perform "the full range of sedentary work." (Id. at 116.) The difference appears to be that the ALJ in the original hearing relied on the "Physical Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire" completed by Dr. Cynthia Powell in assessing Plaintiff's RFC. (Id.) But after the Appeals Council found that Dr. Powell's opinion was "conclusory and ...


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