United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
T. NUMBERS, II UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Robert Lee Bridgers instituted this action on February 14,
2017, to challenge the denial of his application for social
security income. Bridgers claims that the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) Mason Hogan erred in (1) evaluating
the medical opinion evidence, (2) failing to adopt the visual
limitations set forth by one of Bridgers's treating
providers, and (3) identifying other jobs that Bridgers could
perform. Both Bridgers and Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, have filed motions
seeking a judgment on the pleadings in their favor. D.E. 20,
reviewing the parties' arguments, the court has
determined that ALJ Hogan reached the appropriate decision.
ALJ Hogan properly considered the medical opinion evidence,
including the visual limitations assessed by Dr. Edwin Swann.
Additionally, ALJ Hogan did not err in relying on the
testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to
identify, at step five, other work suitable for Bridgers.
Therefore, the court denies Bridgers's motion, grants
Berryhill's motion, and affirms the Commissioner's
November 27, 2012, Bridgers protectively filed an application
for disability benefits alleging a disability that began on
October 19, 2012. After his claim was denied at the initial
level and upon reconsideration, Bridgers appeared before ALJ
Hogan for a hearing to determine whether he was entitled to
benefits. ALJ Hogan determined Bridgers was not entitled to
benefits because he was not disabled. Tr. at 9-25.
Hogan found that Bridgers had several severe impairments:
degenerative joint disease of the lumbar spine with SI joint
dysfunction, myofascial pain syndrome, moderate carpal tunnel
syndrome, history of left rotator cuff tear, status post
surgical repair, possible osteoarthritis of the knees,
glaucoma, and afferent pupillary defect. Tr. at 11. ALJ Hogan
found that Bridgers's impairments, either alone or in
combination, did not meet or equal a Listing impairment. Tr.
Hogan then determined that Bridgers had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a range of
light work with additional limitations. Tr. at 13. He can
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds but he can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs. Id. Bridgers
can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl and
occasionally reach with his dominant upper extremity.
Id. He can also frequently handle and finger with
the bilateral upper extremities. Id.
must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dust,
gases, poor ventilation and hazards such as unprotected
heights and dangerous machinery. Id. Finally,
Bridgers cannot do any work that requires depth perception.
Hogan concluded that Bridgers was incapable of performing his
past relevant work as an apartment maintenance worker or
industrial truck driver. Tr. at 23. But ALJ Hogan determined
that, considering Bridgers's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, there were other jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that Bridgers was
capable of performing. Id. These include: cashier,
furniture rental consultant, and parking lot attendant. Tr.
at 23-24. Thus, ALJ Hogan found that Bridgers was not
disabled. Tr. at 25.
unsuccessfully seeking review by the Appeals Council,
Bridgers commenced this action in February 2017. D.E. 5.
Standard for Review of the Acting Commissioner's Final
social security claimant appeals a final decision of the
Commissioner, the district court's review is limited to
determining whether, based on the entire administrative
record, there is substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's findings. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Substantial evidence is defined as “evidence which a
reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a
particular conclusion.” Shively v. Heckler,
739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984) (quoting Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). The
court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is
supported by substantial evidence. Smith v. Chater,
99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996).
Standard for Evaluating Disability
making a disability determination, the ALJ engages in a
five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520;
see Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650 (4th Cir.
2005). The ALJ must consider the factors in order. At step
one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. At step two, the claim is
denied if the claimant does not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments significantly limiting him or her
from performing basic work activities. At step three, the
claimant's impairment is compared to those in the Listing
of Impairments. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
App. 1. If the impairment is listed in the Listing of
Impairments or if it is equivalent to a listed impairment,
disability is conclusively presumed. However, if the
claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed
impairment, the ALJ assesses the claimant's RFC to
determine, at step four, whether he can perform his past work
despite his impairments. If the claimant cannot perform past
relevant work, the analysis moves on to step five:
establishing whether the claimant, based on his age, work
experience, and RFC can perform other substantial gainful
work. The burden of proof is on the claimant for the first
four steps of this inquiry, but shifts to the Commissioner at
the fifth step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203
(4th Cir. 1995).
has a history of back pain, knee pain, carpal tunnel, and
diminished vision. In August 2012, Robert Lawrence, PA,
examined Bridgers. Tr. at 283. He refilled prescriptions
related to Bridgers's back pain. Id. Four months
later, Lawrence provided follow-up care for Bridgers's
HIV. Tr. at 277-78. Treatment notes reflect that Bridgers had
vision loss in his right eye due to untreated glaucoma. Tr.
this same time, Bridgers sought treatment with Dr. Holly
Warren for his chronic back pain. Tr. at 365. She prescribed
medication and recommended he pursue care with a pain
management clinic. Id. The following month, Dr.
Mackenzie Smith saw Bridgers for his back pain. Tr. at
368-70. She, too, prescribed medication and suggested he
pursue pain management treatment. Id.
January 2013, Dr. Smith issued a Medical Source Statement
opining that Bridgers's symptoms were severe enough to
interfere with the attention and concentration required to
perform simple tasks. Tr. at 328-29. Dr. Smith also assessed
the following limitations: Bridgers could sit for ten minutes
at a time for up to two hours in an eight-hour workday; he
could stand or walk for ten minutes at a time for up to two
hours in an eight-hour workday; he is unable to walk a city
block without rest without experiencing pain; he would
require unscheduled breaks every 15-30 minutes; he could
occasionally lift or carry up to ten pounds and could not
lift or carry more than 20 pounds; and he would be absent
from work four or more times per month due to his
that month, Dr. Yen Nguyen examined Bridgers's vision due
to his complaints of itchiness, dryness, and excessive
watering in the left eye. Tr. at 349-50. Dr. Nguyen assessed
a pupillary defect in the right eye and glaucoma in the left
eye, and prescribed eye drops for both conditions.
Id. At a follow-up visit the following month, Dr.
Nguyen assessed the same conditions and treatment. Tr. at
354-55. By March, Dr. Nguyen referred Bridgers to a
specialist after noticing a decline in his vision. Tr. at
March through May, Bridgers sought follow-up care from Dr.
Smith's office for his back pain. Tr. at 372-76.
Providers prescribed medications and administered injections.
Id. A May 2013 examination found an abnormal gait
and low back tenderness. Tr. at 377.
2013 MRI of Bridgers's lumbar spine showed moderate
lumbar spondylosis from L3-L4 through L5-S1 with narrowing of
the central canal and subarticular recess, and disc material
contacting the nerve roots at L3 and L4. Tr. at 395-96. It
also showed severe right facet arthropathy and moderate left
facet arthropathy at L5-S1 with a diffuse bulge causing mild
central canal and neural foraminal narrowing. Id.
X-rays of the lumbar spine revealed moderate multilevel
degenerative changes of the lumbar spine. Tr. at 399.
E.C. Land performed a consultative examination later that
month. Tr. at 391-93. His examination noted a dense cataract
in the right eye and the formation of one in the left eye.
Tr. at 392. Bridgers also displayed a decreased range of
motion in the cervical spine with tenderness over his lumbar
region and a limited ability to bend and squat. Id.
His gait was stiff but he was able to ambulate at times
without a cane. Id. Dr. Land assessed low back pain
secondary to degenerative arthritis and glaucoma, with loss
of vision in the right eye. Tr. at 393. He opined that
Bridgers would have mild limitations in squatting, lifting,
and bending, as well as mild restrictions in the repetitive
use of his left shoulder due to a prior surgery. Id.
months later, Bridgers saw Dr. William Doss for his back
pain. Tr. at 401. Dr. Doss's examination found tenderness
at the left SI joint and positive Gaenslen, FABER, and
Gillett tests on the left side. Tr. at 403. Dr. Doss
prescribed medication and referred Bridgers for an SI joint
injection and physical therapy. Id.
began physical therapy later that month. Tr. at 531-35. An
examination revealed stiff posture, antalgic gait, tender
paraspinal muscles, and painful range of motion. Id.