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Robinson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

April 9, 2018

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


          Graham C. Mullen United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court upon Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 6) and Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 9). Having carefully considered the motions and reviewed the record, the court enters the following findings, conclusions, and Order.

         I. Administrative History

         Plaintiff Paula M. Robinson (“Robinson” or “Plaintiff”) filed her application for Disability Insurance Benefits on July 21, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of April 24, 2008. After Plaintiff's claim was denied both initially and on reconsideration, she requested and was granted a hearing. An administrative law judge held a hearing and denied her claim on September 13, 2013. Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council, and the Appeals Council vacated the decision and remanded the case for a new hearing and decision.

         On April 9, 2015, a second hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Clinton C. Hicks (“the ALJ”). At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to October 18, 2013. On June 8, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that the Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act during the relevant time period.

         The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Thereafter, Plaintiff timely filed this action, seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision.

         II. Factual Background

         In his decision, the ALJ at the first step determined that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period between her alleged onset date and her date last insured. (Tr. 17). At the second step, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: obesity, degenerative disc disease, memory dysfunction, sleep apnea with excessive daytime hypersomnolence, depression, and bipolar disorder. (Id.). At the third step, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of one the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 18).

         After a consideration of the entire record, the ALJ then found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work with the following limitations:

she must have the option to change position from sitting to standing twice per hour; she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; she cannot perform overhead lifting with the left upper extremity; she is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a nonproduction work environment with no public contact and occasional interaction with supervisors and coworkers.

(Tr. 20). Based on these limitations, the ALJ found in the fourth step that Plaintiff is not capable of performing her past relevant work. (Tr. 25). Finally, at the fifth step, the ALJ concluded that there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 26). Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 27).

         III. Standard of Review

         The only issues on review are whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Review by a federal court is not de novo, Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986); rather, inquiry is limited to whether there was “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, ” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 400. Even if the undersigned were to find that a preponderance of the evidence weighed against the Commissioner's decision, the Commissioner's decision would have to be affirmed if supported by substantial evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456.

         IV. Discussion

         On appeal, Plaintiff asserts that remand is warranted, alleging three errors by the ALJ: (1) that he did not conduct a full function-by-function analysis of Plaintiff's nonexertional mental limitations, (2) that he accepted testimony from a vocational expert that conflicts with the DOT but failed to resolve the conflict, and (3) that he failed to properly evaluate opinion testimony and give it proper weight in the RFC determination. After reviewing both parties' memoranda, the ALJ's decision, the administrative record, and relevant case law, the Court finds that the ALJ's decision must be affirmed.

         A) Mental Limitations

         Plaintiff alleges error with respect to each of the three areas of mental functioning assessed by the ...

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