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Ladda v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

January 31, 2017

LEON L. LADDA, JR., Plaintiff,


          Richard L. Voorhees United States District Judge.

         THIS 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 hereby AFFIRMED.


         On 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”).

         At Step 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).

         Plaintiff 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.


         A. Standard of Review

         The 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 589)).

         B. Analysis

         In his 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.

         i. Credibility Determination

         The law 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).

         While 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, [1] Social Security Regulation (“SSR”) 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186 at *3.[2] Although the ALJ must consider each of the relevant factors, “[t]he ...

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