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Thompson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

June 21, 2018

TERRY WAYNE THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JOE L. WEBSTER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Terry Wayne Thompson, seeks review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claims for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). The Court has before it the certified administrative record[1] and cross-motions for judgment.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on August 22, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of August 31, 2012. (Tr. 100-01, 200-12.) The applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Id. at 132-36, 142-49.) A hearing was then held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") at which Plaintiff, his attorney, and a vocational expert ("VE") were present. (Id. at 37-69.) On April 13, 2016 the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Id. at 18-29.) On March 30, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of review. (Id. at 1-6.)

         II. STANDARD FOR REVIEW

         The scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is specific and narrow. Smith v. Schmiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986). Review is Limited to determining if there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). "[T]n reviewing for substantial evidence, [the Court] do[es] not re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner]." Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). The issue before the Court, therefore, is not whether Plaintiff is disabled but whether the Commissioner's finding that he is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and was reached based upon a correct application of the relevant law. Id.

         III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         The ALJ followed the well-established sequential analysis to ascertain whether the claimant is disabled, which is set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. See Albright v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2 (4th Cir. 1999).[2] Here, the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of August 31, 2012. (Tr. 20.) The ALJ next found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: depression, obesity, arthropathies, degenerative disc disease, and diabetes. (Id. at 20-21.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one listed in Appendix 1. (Id. at 21-23.)

         Prior to step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"). (Id. at 23-27.) Based on the evidence as a whole, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work

except the claimant is limited to doing simple routine tasks/instructions, but not at a production rate (such as assembly line work), to making simple work-related decisions, and to sustaining concentration/pace for two-hour segments throughout the duration of a standard eight-hour workday. The undersigned also determines the claimant is unable to climb ladders/scaffolds/ropes and frequently able to climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. The undersigned further concludes the claimant is occasionally able to reach overhead bilaterally.

(Id. at 23.) At the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not capable of performing past relevant work. (Id. at 27.) Finally, at step five, the ALJ found there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform such as counter clerk, page, or usher. (Id. at 28-29.) Consequently, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled from the alleged onset date through the decision date. (Id. at 29.)

         IV. ISSUES AND ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ erred by failing to "analyze the opinion of [certified physician assistant Theresa Williamson] at all. . . ." (Docket Entry 12 at 4-9.)[3] The Court agrees and recommends remand because it cannot tell why the ALJ dismissed evidence that may contradict Plaintiffs RFC, or whether he considered that evidence at all.

         A. The ALJ's Treatment of PAC Williamson's Opinion is Not ...


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