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Collins v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

January 3, 2018

NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Linda Snow Collins brought this action to obtain review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claims for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). The Court has before it the certified administrative record[1] and cross-motions for judgment.


         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI in January of 2012 alleging a disability onset date of September 1, 2009; her alleged onset date was subsequently amended to June 1, 2012. (Tr. 17, 162-65, 389-98, 480.) The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Id. at 17, 137-40, 143-47, 427-30.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") which was held on January 13, 2014. (Id. at 130-33, 462-84.) After the hearing, ALJ Michelle D. Cavadi determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 40-52.) Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, and the Appeals Council subsequently vacated the hearing decision and remanded the matter to the ALJ. (Id. at 34-36.) The Appeals Council determined that the ALJ may not have reviewed Plaintiffs entire record since there were inconsistencies between Plaintiffs electronic record and the paper file. (Id.) A second hearing was held before ALJ Cavadi on August 10, 2015. (Id. at 432-61.) ALJ Cavadi again determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 17-33.) The Appeals Council denied a request for review, making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of review. (Id. at 7-9.)


         The 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); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). "In reviewing for substantial evidence, [the Court] dojes] not re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Craig v. Chater, 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 followed the sequential analysis, which is set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920, to ascertain whether the claimant is disabled. See Albright v. Comm'r of Sot: Sec. Admin., 17'4 F.3d 473, 475 n.2 (4th Cir. 1999).[2] The ALJ determined at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the June 1, 2012 amended alleged onset date. (Tr. 20.) The ALJ next found the following severe impairments at step two: history of compression fractures and osteoporosis, mild scoliosis, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning with reading/learning 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 24.)

         The ALJ next set forth Plaintiffs Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") and determined that she could perform medium work with the following limitations:

she can lift up to fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently. She can frequently climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, fumes, dust, gases, and areas with poor ventilation. She can never drive an automobile for the completion of job tasks. She is limited to the performance of unskilled work that is simple, routine, and repetitive in nature with routine changes in the work environment.

(Id. at 27.) At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 31.) Last, at step five, the ALJ determined that there were jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id. at 32.) Consequently, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.)


         Plaintiff raises two issues in her brief. First, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to properly account for Plaintiffs moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace ("CPP") in her RFC. pocket Entry 12 at 6-11.) Second, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred at step five by failing to identify the apparent conflict between the Vocational Expert's ("VE") testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT") description of the job requirements for the jobs identified by the VE. (Id. at 11-19.) For the following reasons, the Court disagrees.

         A. The ALJ Adequately Accounted for Plaintiff's ...

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