United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
LEON L. LADDA, JR., Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSINER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
Richard L. Voorhees United States District Judge.
MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on cross-motions for summary
judgment. (Docs. 11, 13). For the reasons that follow, the
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 11) is
DENIED, the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.
13) is GRANTED, and the decision of the Commissioner is
December 19, 2011, Plaintiff Leon L. Ladda, Jr., protectively
filed applications for disability insurance benefits and for
supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act, alleging an inability to work due to a
disabling condition commencing on November 9, 2011. (Tr. 19).
The Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner” or “Defendant”)
initially denied Plaintiff's application on February 2,
2012 and, upon reconsideration, again denied the application
on May 28, 2012. On June 28, 2012, Plaintiff filed a written
request for a hearing. (Tr. 136-38). Plaintiff's request
was granted and a hearing was held before Administrative Law
Judge Wendell M. Sims (“ALJ Sims”).
One, ALJ Sims found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability
onset date. (Tr. 21). At Step Two, ALJ Sims found that the
injuries Plaintiff sustained in a vehicular accident resulted
in a severe medically determinable impairment(s) consisting
of osteoarthritis, neuropathy, and chronic pain. Id.
At Step Three, ALJ Sims concluded that none of
Plaintiff's impairments, or a combination thereof, met
the Listings. (Tr. 21-22). ALJ Sims then assessed
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, first making
findings about Plaintiff's credibility, injuries, and
limitations and then applying those findings to determine
that Plaintiff could “perform tasks at the light
exertional level, ” with a restriction for only
occasional climbing and balancing. (Tr. 22-27). Based on this
determination, ALJ Sims, at Step Four, concluded that
Plaintiff was unable to return to his past relevant work as a
baker. (Tr. 27). However, at Step Five, ALJ Sims decided,
with the assistance of a vocational expert, that Plaintiff
was not disabled because there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform, including an unskilled housekeeper, a
cafeteria attendant, and a mail clerk. (Tr. 28).
requested that the Appeals Council review ALJ Sims's
adverse decision. (Tr. 9; 272-73). Specifically, Plaintiff
contended that ALJ Sims improperly discredited his testimony
based on his failure to seek physical therapy treatment and
that ALJ Sims incorrectly weighed the evidence regarding his
pain and the impact of that pain on his ability to work. (Tr.
272-73). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review. (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff timely filed this action
seeking judicial review of the denial of benefits.
Standard of Review
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), §
1383(c)(3) (2006), limits this Court's review of a final
decision of the Commissioner to: (1) whether substantial
evidence supports the Commissioner's decision; and (2)
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971);
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
1990). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion; [i]t consists of more than a mere scintilla of
evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir.1996) (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368
F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir.1966)) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). “In reviewing for substantial
evidence, [a court] do[es] not undertake to reweigh
conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute [its] judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d
650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Craig, 76 F.3d at
motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff contends that ALJ Sims
(1) did not perform a complete function-by-function analysis
before determining Plaintiff's residual functional
capacity, and (2) did not provide legally sufficient reasons
in support of his adverse credibility determination. (Doc. 12
at 5-15). Because an ALJ must consider a claimant's
testimony before determining the claimant's residual
functional capacity see Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d
632, 639 (4th Cir. 2015), the Court will consider
Plaintiff's challenge to ALJ Sims's credibility
determination before Plaintiff's challenge to ALJ
Sims's residual functional capacity assessment.
provides a two-part test for evaluating the probative weight
to be assigned to a claimant's statements about symptoms
and pain. Craig, 76 F.3d at 589. First, there must
be “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.”
Id. at 594 (quotation marks, citations, and emphasis
omitted). If the ALJ determines that such an impairment
exists, the second part of the test then requires the ALJ to
consider all available evidence, including the claimant's
statements about limitations and about pain, in order to
determine whether the person is disabled. Id. at
595-96; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c)(4), 416.929(c)(4).
an ALJ must consider a claimant's statements during the
second part of the analysis, he need not credit them to the
extent they conflict with the objective medical evidence of
record. Craig, 76 F.3d at 596. Relevant evidence for
this inquiry includes the claimant's “medical
history, medical signs, and laboratory findings, ”
id. at 595, as well as various regulatory factors,
Social Security Regulation (“SSR”) 96-7p, 1996 WL
374186 at *3. Although the ALJ must consider each of the
relevant factors, “[t]he ...