United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED
STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Lisa Crittenton-Cates, brought this action pursuant to
Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the
"Act"), as amended (42 U.S.C. § 405(g)), to
obtain review of a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying her claims for a Period of
Disability ("POD") and Disability Insurance
Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Act. The
Court has before it the certified administrative record and
cross-motions for judgment.
filed an application for DIB and a POD in April of 2011
alleging a disability onset date of November 15, 2007. (Tr.
228-31.) The application was denied initially and
upon reconsideration. (Id. at 65-93.) Plaintiff then
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") and at the March 11, 2013 hearing were
Plaintiff and her attorney. (Id. at 27-41.) The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act.
(Id. at 98-110.) On October 18, 2013, the Appeals
Council granted Plaintiffs request for review and remanded
the matter to the ALJ. (Id. at 117-118.) A different
ALJ held a new hearing on February 27, 2014, at which
Plaintiff, her attorney, and a vocational expert
("VE") were present. (Id. at 42-63.)
Plaintiff also amended her onset date to March 31, 2011.
(Id. at 14, 46.) The ALJ again determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 14-26.) On
August 15, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs
request for review, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision for purposes of review.
(Id. at 1-5.)
STANDARD FOR REVIEW
scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision is specific and narrow. Smith v. Schweiker,
795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986). Review is limited to
determining if there is substantial evidence in the record to
support the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C §
405(g); Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th
Cir. 1992); Bays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456
(4th Cir. 1990). In reviewing for substantial evidence, the
Court does not re-weigh conflicting evidence, make
credibility determinations, or substitute its judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Craig v. Chafer, 76 F.3d
585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). The issue before the Court,
therefore, is not whether Plaintiff is disabled but whether
the Commissioner's finding that she is not disabled is
supported by substantial evidence and was reached based upon
a correct application of the relevant law. Id.
THE ALJ'S DISCUSSION
followed the well-established five-step sequential
analysis to ascertain whether the claimant is disabled, which
is set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. See Albright
v. Comm'rof Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2
(4th Cir. 1999). The ALJ reached the fifth step, at which
point he determined that Plaintiff was not disabled from
March 31, 2011, the amended alleged onset date, through
December 31, 2012, the date last insured. (Tr. 26.)
specifically, the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity during the relevant
period. (Id. at 16.) The ALJ next found in step two
that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, leg edema, nerve damage
in legs, bulging disc in neck, diabetes mellitus, pelvic
enthesopathy, recurrent rash, and depressive disorder.
(Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments
listed in, or medically equal to, one listed in Appendix 1.
(Id. at 17.)
to step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiffs residual
functional capacity ("RFC") and concluded that
Plaintiff retained the ability to perform light work and that
she was capable of lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling 20
pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, could stand and
walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday, and could sit
for six hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant could
not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and could only
occasionally climb stairs. She did not require an assistive
device for balancing or walking. The claimant could do work
involving only three to four step operations in a non-quota
production environment. Finally, she could have only frequent
contact with the public.
(Tr. 19.) At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
could not perform any past relevant work. (Id. at
24.) At step five, the ALJ concluded that there were jobs in
the national economy which she could perform. (Id.
asks this Court to reverse the decision of the Commissioner,
and in support of her request, she makes several arguments.
First, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in evaluating
and weighing various medical opinions. (Docket Entry 9 at 4.)
Second, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to account for
her moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and
pace ("CPP"). (Id. at 9-10.) Third,
Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in assessing her RFC.
(Id. at 10-11.) Lastly, Plaintiff contends that the
ALJ erred in his credibility analysis. (Id. at 11.)
For the following reasons, these objections lack merit.
The ALJ properly evaluated the opinions of the medical care
first contends that the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical
opinions of (1) rheumatologist Dr. Amanda Nelson, M.D., (2)
primary care physician Dr. Daniel Crummett, M.D., and (3)
consulting examiner Dr. Constant Masere, M.D. (Id.
treating source rule requires an ALJ to give controlling
weight to the opinion of a treating source regarding the
nature and severity of a claimant's impairment. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(c)(2). The rule also recognizes, however,
that not all treating sources or treating source opinions
merit the same deference. The nature and extent of each
treatment relationship appreciably tempers the weight an ALJ
affords an opinion. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(2)(ii). Moreover, as subsections (2) through (4)
of the rule describe in detail, a treating source's
opinion, like all medical opinions, deserves deference only
if well-supported by medical signs and laboratory findings
and consistent with the other substantial evidence in the
case record. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(2)-(4). "[I]f a physician's opinion is
not supported by clinical evidence or if it is inconsistent
with other substantial evidence, it should be accorded
significantly less weight." Craig, 76 F.3d at
Nelson, Plaintiffs rheumatologist, concluded on February 28,
2013 in a pre-printed form, that because of pain and fatigue
Plaintiff suffered from the occasional inability to
concentrate on even simple, routine work tasks, and that
because of her impairments or treatment Plaintiff would
likely miss work three days per month. (Tr. 645, 644-646.)
Dr. Nelson also initialed a check list form on March 13, 2013
listing some of the evidence from the record and indicating
that she relied on this evidence in rendering her February 28
opinion. (Tr. 647.)
specifically considered this opinion and gave it "little
weight." (Id. at 23.) In support, the ALJ
discussed Dr. Nelson's opinion, stating that:
[w]hile Dr. Nelson is a treating source, she wrote her
opinion on a form, and did not provide detailed reasoning
regarding the claimant's specific limitations. . . . Dr.
Nelson based her opinion on the claimant's allegations
-she stated that the claimant "reports fatigue, which is
a common complaint" with fibromyalgia (Exhibit 19F, pg.
1). While Dr. Nelson stated that the claimant experienced
chronic pain due to fibromyalgia, she also reported that the
claimant's primary care provider would "be better
able to comment on her pain symptoms" (Exhibit 19F, pg.
2). The undersigned has considered Dr. Nelson's
statements that x-rays taken in November 2013 revealed an
increase in the size of entheosophytes in her pelvis and
feet, but notes that this increase took place after the date
last insured, and was only mild during the relevant period
ALJ's decision to afford Dr. Nelson's opinion
"little weight" is supported by substantial
evidence. First, Dr. Nelson's opinion, described above,
was rendered on preprinted forms in a conclusory fashion,
providing little explanation for her opinions. See
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(3) (stating that the better
explanation a source provides for an opinion, the more weight
the Commissioner gives that opinion); Mason v.
Shalala,994 F.2d 1058, 1065 (3d Cir. 1993) ("Form