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Scott v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division

January 10, 2018

Alphonso Scott, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION

          Robert T. Numbers, II United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Alphonso Scott, Jr., instituted this action on September 12, 2016, to challenge the denial of his application for social security income. Scott claims that Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Nicole S. Forbes-Schmitt erred in (1) failing to accord proper weight to a previous disability finding, (2) finding that Scott had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a reduced range of sedentary work, and (3) failing to address the impact of his obesity on his functioning. Both Scott 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. 17, 21.

         After reviewing the parties' arguments, the court has determined that ALJ Forbes-Schmitt reached the appropriate decision. Substantial evidence supports her conclusion that the previous disability finding was entitled to little weight. The ALJ's determination that Scott has an RFC that allows him to perform a reduced range of sedentary work is also supported by substantial evidence. Finally, the ALJ's decision sufficiently addressed the impact of Scott's obesity on his ability to perform work-related activities. Therefore, the undersigned magistrate judge recommends that the court deny Scott's motion, grant Berryhill's motion, and affirm the Commissioner's decision.[2]

         I. Background

         In October 2008, an ALJ found that Scott was disabled and awarded him benefits. Tr. at 17.[3] But Scott lost his benefits due to incarceration in 2011. Id.

         In September 2014, Scott protectively filed an application for supplemental security income alleging that he became disabled on January 2, 2005. After his claim was denied at the initial level and upon reconsideration, Scott appeared before ALJ Forbes-Schmitt for a hearing to determine whether he was entitled to benefits. ALJ Forbes-Schmitt determined Scott was not entitled to benefits because he was not disabled. Tr. at 17-28.

         ALJ Forbes-Schmitt found that Scott had the following severe impairments: insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy, Charcot joint with tendonitis on the left foot, chronic kidney disease, hypertension, morbid obesity, and borderline intellectual functioning. Tr. at 19. ALJ Forbes-Schmitt found that Scott's impairments, either alone or in combination, did not meet or equal a Listing impairment. Tr. at 20. ALJ Forbes-Schmitt then determined that Scott had the RFC to perform a range of sedentary work with additional limitations. Tr. at 22. He cannot use the lower left extremity for foot controls and he must avoid hazards. Id. Scott is limited to performing simple, routine, repetitive tasks. Id.

         ALJ Forbes-Schmitt concluded that Scott had no past relevant work. Tr. at 27. However, considering his age, education, work experience, and RFC, ALJ Forbes-Schmitt found that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Scott was capable of performing. Id. These include bench assembler, addressing clerk, and weight tester. Id. Thus, ALJ Forbes-Schmitt found that Scott was not disabled. Tr. at 28.

         After unsuccessfully seeking review by the Appeals Council, Scott commenced this action on September 12, 2016. D.E. 5.

         II. Analysis

         A. Standard for Review of the Acting Commissioner's Final Decision

         When a 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).

         B. Standard for Evaluating Disability

         In 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).

         C. Medical Background

         Scott alleges that he has learning disabilities and physical impairments because he suffered from spinal meningitis as a child. Approximately one month before he filed his application, Scott received treatment at the Emergency Department of New Hanover Regional Medical Center for kidney disease, bilateral leg edema, diabetes, hypertension, and an upper respiratory infection. Tr. at 458-69. The following month, Dr. Aymen Gebrail conducted a consultative examination. Tr. at 246-51. He assessed diabetes with peripheral neuropathy, kidney disease, hypertension, and obesity. Id.

         Dr. Reuben Silver conducted a psychological consultative examination in October 2014. Tr. at 251-53. He noted anxiety and low intellectual functioning. He concluded it may be difficult for Scott to find employment ...


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