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Cheek v. Berryhill

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

June 19, 2017

DOTTY CHEEK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 19). For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, and AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income Benefits under Title XVI of 42 U.S.C. § 1383, on December 10, 2010, alleging disability onset date of September 3, 2010. (Tr. 291.) The claim was initially denied by the Social Security Administration on April 8, 2011, (Tr. 162-165), and again on November 21, 2012. (Tr. 141-54.) Plaintiff timely requested a hearing, which was held on June 2, 2014, by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 32.)

         On December 4, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 11-26.) Specifically, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since November 18, 2010 (Tr. 13), and that she had the following severe impairments: status post craniotomy due to brain mass, headaches, chronic back and hip arthralgias, degenerative disc disease, cervical spine, decreased hearing of the left ear, alleged cognitive issues, depression, anxiety, status post right carpal tunnel release, double vision, left congenital nerve palsy and obesity. (Tr. 13-14.) The ALJ reviewed the listed impairments and found none of the conditions, standing alone or in combination, met the requirements for any of the listings in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14.)

         The ALJ found Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) would allow her to perform light work, except that she would be limited to:

frequent handling, fingering; occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; occasional balancing, stooping, crouching, crawling, and kneeling; no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasional fine hearing; frequent near acuity; no more than moderate exposure to noise; no driving an automobile for completion of job tasks; performing simple routine repetitive tasks; no contact with the public; occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors; routine changes; and non-production oriented.

(Tr. 17.) While these restrictions precluded Plaintiff from resuming her past relevant work, the ALJ found there were other forms of work Plaintiff could perform, taking into consideration her age, education, work experience, and RFC. (Tr. 24-25.) Accordingly, the ALJ ruled that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 26.) Plaintiff requested review by an Appeals Council (Tr. 1), which denied Plaintiff's request. (Id.) Plaintiff then timely filed this action seeking judicial review.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Disability for the purposes of the Social Security Administration is defined as “the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment [or combination of impairments] which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To determine disability, the Commission uses a five step sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). First, the Commission considers whether the claimant is performing “substantial gainful activity.” Id. Second, if the claimant is not participating in “substantial gainful activity, ” the Commission considers the medical severity of the claimant's impairment(s). Id. The claimant must have a medical impairment, or combination of impairments, that is severe and meets the duration requirements. Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509). Third, if the Commission determines the claimant's impairment meets the requirements of one of the Social Security listings as well as the duration requirements of 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), the claimant will be considered disabled. Id. Otherwise, the Commission moves to the fourth step: assessing the claimant's RFC to determine if the claimant is disabled from his past type of employment. Id. If the claimant is unable to perform his past relevant work, the Commission's fifth step is to determine whether, based on the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience, the claimant is able to make an adjustment to other work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). If so, the claimant will be determined to be not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c).

         The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3), limits this Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security 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. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992). The scope of review of such a decision is “extremely limited.” Frady v. Harris, 646 F.2d 143, 144 (4th Cir. 1981). “The findings of the Commissioner . . . as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it 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 Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)); Smith v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir.1986).

         The Fourth Circuit has long emphasized it is not for a reviewing court to weigh the evidence again, nor to substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456; see also Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d at 345; Blalock, 483 F.2d at 775. This is true even if the reviewing court disagrees with the outcome, so long as there is substantial evidence in the record to support the final decision below. Lester v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 838, 841 (4th Cir. 1982).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff raises three assignments of error with this Court, arguing that: (1) the ALJ failed to conduct a function-by-function analysis when assessing Plaintiff's RFC; (2) the ALJ failed to discuss Plaintiff's ability to stay on task for a full workday or attend work consistently through the work week; and (3) new and material evidence from Plaintiff's neurologist warrants a ...


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