United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
ROSIE M. HARDY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.
D. WHITNEY CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13). Plaintiff, through
counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable
administrative decision on her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the
reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment is GRANTED.
procedural history of this case is undisputed. Plaintiff
filed an application for a period of disability benefits on
August 27, 2012. (Tr. 161, 205). Plaintiff initially alleged
disability commencing on April 23, 2009, due to hypertension,
a back injury and herniated disk, left eye blindness,
arthritis of the back, and a brace on the left ankle. (Tr.
208). Plaintiff's application was denied initially on
November 12, 2012, and then again denied upon reconsideration
on March 13, 2013. (Tr. 100, 105). An Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on January 12, 2015,
where Plaintiff appeared and testified. (Tr. 33-64). At that
point, Plaintiff amended her onset date to February 19, 2013.
(Tr. 178). The ALJ issued a decision on April 16, 2015,
finding Plaintiff was not disabled at any point between her
amended alleged onset date and the date Plaintiff's
disability insured status expired on December 31, 2014. (Tr.
16-27, 173). Plaintiff requested Appeals Council review.
While the case was pending before the Appeals Council,
Plaintiff sought to introduce new evidence, including a
January 2014 opinion from Plaintiff's treating physician
Dr. Raad, which had not been submitted to the ALJ. On August
29, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-7). Plaintiff then
brought the instant suit before this Court, and this case is
now ripe for judicial review pursuant to Section 205(g) of
the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
reaching her decision, the ALJ used the five-step sequential
evaluation process for the evaluation of claims for
disability under the Act. (Tr. 16-27); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). On step one of the process, the ALJ found
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
between the amended alleged onset date, February 19, 2013,
and the date Plaintiff's insured status expired, December
31, 2014. (Tr. 17). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had
the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease
of the lumbar spine, osteoarthritis, status post left ankle
fracture, hypertension, visual impairment in the left eye,
obesity, and degenerative joint disease. (Tr. 18). The ALJ
also determined Plaintiff's alleged mental limitations
were not severe impairments. (Tr. 19). At step three, the ALJ
found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled any of the
Listings. (Tr. 19).
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff, despite her impairments,
could perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(b), and was limited to the following:
[o]ccasional pushing and pulling and use of foot pedals in
the left lower extremities; no climbing of ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; occasional climbing of ramps and stairs;
occasional postural movements including balancing, stooping,
kneeling, crouching, and crawling; jobs that require only
monocular vision; occasional exposure to workplace hazards,
such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery; and that
allow claimant to alternate between sitting and standing two
times per hour.
(Tr. 19-20). Also, at step four the ALJ found Plaintiff could
no longer perform any of her past relevant work. (Tr. 25). At
step five, the ALJ determined that in light of
Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, work experience, and the
Vocational Expert's (“VE”) testimony,
Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in significant numbers
in the national economy. (Tr. 27). Those jobs included the
representative light level jobs of test technician, general
clerk, and group sales representative. (Tr. 27). Pursuant to
the reasons stated above, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not
disabled under the Act. (Tr. 27).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and §
1383(c)(3), restricts and narrows this Court's review of
a final administrative decision of the Commissioner to (1)
whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's
decision, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390,
401 (1971); and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the
correct legal standards. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d
1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). It is not the role of the
District Court to reweigh conflicting evidence or make any
credibility determinations regarding that evidence because
“it is not within the province of the reviewing court
to determine the weight of the evidence, nor is it the
court's function to substitute its judgment for that of
the Secretary if his decision is supported by substantial
evidence.” Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453,
1456 (4th Cir. 1990). The District Court does not review a
final decision of the Commissioner de novo.
Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir.
evidence is defined as “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971).
“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 Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th
Cir. 1966)). Even in instances where a reviewing court would
have come to a different conclusion than the Commissioner,
the reviewing court must uphold the decision of the
Commissioner so long as the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence. Smith v.
Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1972);
Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir.
1972). Pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act,
the findings of the Commissioner, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive.
Social Security Act sets forth a five-step sequential process
for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(1). Step one requires the ALJ to make a
determination as to whether the claimant is engaged in
substantial gainful activity; if claimant is, he will be
found not disabled. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i).
Step two is to determine whether the claimant has a severe
medically determinable physical or mental impairment or a
combination of impairments that is severe and meets the
duration requirement. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii).
Step three assesses whether the claimant's impairment or
combination of impairments meets or medically equals one of
the listings in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, if
the claimant does meet one of the listings, then the claimant
will be found disabled. Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iii). Step four determines whether the
claimant has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform the requirements of his past
relevant work. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv).
Finally, step five considers whether the claimant is able to
make an adjustment to other work, considering claimant's
RFC, age, education, and work experience. Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(v). Plaintiff bears the burden of proof
through the first four steps. Pass v. Chater, 65
F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995).
appeal to this Court, Plaintiff makes two assignments of
error. First, Plaintiff argues the Appeals Council erred in
failing to vacate the ALJ's decision where new evidence
was submitted to the Appeals Council. (Doc. No. 11, p 5).
Second, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to give adequate
explanation as to why Plaintiff's mild mental limitations
in daily activities, ability to maintain social function, and
concentration, persistence, or pace (“CPP”) were
not factored into Plaintiff's RFC. Id. For the
reasons stated below, this Court finds ...