United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION
T. Numbers, II United States Magistrate Judge.
Jacqueline Dawanda Faison instituted this action on November
21, 2016, to challenge the denial of her application for
social security income. Faison claims that the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) Gary Brockington erred in (1)
determining that she had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of sedentary
work and (2) evaluating the medical opinion evidence. Both
Faison 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. 16, 18.
reviewing the parties' arguments, the court has
determined that ALJ Brockington reached the appropriate
decision. The undersigned finds that substantial evidence
supports ALJ Brockington's conclusion that Faison has the
RFC to perform a reduced range of sedentary work.
Additionally, Faison has failed to establish error in ALJ
Brockington's evaluation of the medical opinion evidence.
Therefore, the undersigned magistrate judge recommends that
the court deny Faison's motion, grant Berryhill's
motion, and affirm the Commissioner's
March 14, 2013, Faison filed an application for supplemental
security income, alleging a disability that began on March 7,
2013. After her claim was denied at the initial level and
upon reconsideration, Faison appeared before ALJ Brockington
for a hearing to determine whether she was entitled to
benefits. ALJ Brockington determined Faison was not entitled
to benefits because she was not disabled. Tr. at 13-25.
Brockington found that Faison had the following severe
impairments: degenerative joint disease of the knees,
osteoarthritis of the spine, asthma/chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (“COPD”)/emphysematous
bronchitis, congestive heart failure, carpal tunnel syndrome
(“CTS”), hypertension, and obesity. Tr. at 15.
ALJ Brockington found that Faison's impairments, either
alone or in combination, did not meet or equal a Listing
impairment. Tr. at 16. ALJ Brockington then determined that
Faison had the RFC to perform sedentary work, with additional
limitations. Tr. at 19. Faison can occasionally climb ramps
or stairs but she can never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. Id. She can occasionally balance and
stoop but she can never kneel, crouch, or crawl. Id.
Faison may frequently reach overhead, handle objects, and
finger bilaterally. Id. She may not have exposure to
extreme cold, extreme heat, or concentrated levels of
pulmonary irritants such as dust, odors, fumes, and gases and
to poorly ventilated areas. Id. She must also have
no exposure to toxic or caustic chemicals, unprotected
heights, hazardous machinery, or moving mechanical parts.
is limited to jobs she can perform while using a cane, which
is required at all times when she is walking. Id.
Her contralateral upper extremity could be used to lift and
carry up to the exertional limits for sedentary work.
Id. Finally, she would be off-task up to 15% of the
time in an eight-hour workday, in addition to normal breaks
(defined as a 10-15 minute morning break and afternoon break
and a 30-60 minute lunch break). Id.
Brockington concluded that Faison had no past relevant work
but that, considering her age, education, work experience,
and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers
in the national economy that Faison was capable of
performing. Tr. at 24-25. These include: order clerk and
table attendant. Tr. at 24. Thus, ALJ Brockington found that
Faison was not disabled. Tr. at 25.
unsuccessfully seeking review by the Appeals Council, Faison
commenced this action in November 2016. D.E. 6.
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
the determination of 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)). If the
Commissioner's decision is supported by such evidence, it
must be affirmed. 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 analysis requires the ALJ to consider the
following enumerated factors sequentially. At step one, if
the claimant is currently 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).
March 2013, Faison sought treatment at the Emergency
Department at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center for dyspnea
related to asthma. Tr. at 338-59. She reported that she had
run out of her asthma medication. Tr. at 344-45. Chest x-rays
were normal, she received Albuterol, and she was discharged
that day. Tr. at 346.
months later, she was hospitalized for approximately 11 days
for respiratory failure, multifactorial dyspnea related to
congestive heart failure, chest pain, hypertension,
hyperlipidemia, asthma, and morbid obesity. Tr. at 367-403.
An ECG revealed increased left ventricular wall thickness and
concentric left ventricular hypertrophy with an ejection
fraction of 65%. Id. A cardiac catheterization
showed no active disease, and a pulmonologist attributed her
shortness of breath to multiple factors. Tr. at 368.
received treatment the following month at Cape Fear Valley
Medical Center for congestive heart failure. Tr. at 408-16,
421-31. She reported doing well since her discharge and was
not using oxygen on that day. Tr. at 437. She also reported
an occasional sensation of coughing and post-nasal drip.
Id. She had a normal respiratory exam, normal gait,
and normal mobility. Tr. at 440. Dr. ...