United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED
STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
William Bryson Tatum, Sr., seeks review of a final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for
disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). The Court
has before it the certified administrative
record and cross-motions for judgment.
filed an application for DIB on August 1, 2013 alleging a
disability onset date of July 27, 2012. (Tr. 85, 104,
171-72.) The applications were denied initially and again
upon reconsideration. (Id. at 86-103.) A hearing was
then held before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") at which Plaintiff, his attorney, and a
vocational expert ('WE") were present. (Id.
at 38-84.) On April 28, 2016, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Id. at
19-31.) On April 13, 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.)
STANDARD FOR REVIEW
scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision is specific and narrow. Smith v.
Schweitzer, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Or. 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). "[I]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.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
followed the well-established sequential analysis to
ascertain whether the claimant is disabled, which is set
forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520. See Albright v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2
(4th Cir. 1999). Here, the ALJ first determined that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since his alleged onset date of July 27, 2012. (Tr. 21.) The
ALJ next found that Plaintiff suffered from the following
severe impairments: "Lumbar disc degenerative and
stenosis; status-post cervical fusion." (Id.)
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
to step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiffs residual
functional capacity ("RFC"). (Id. at
22-29.) Based on the evidence as a whole, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform a limited range of
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). (Id. at
22.) Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the RFC to:
lift, carry, push and/or pull up to twenty pounds
occasionally and up to ten pounds frequently, and can sit for
up to six hours and stand and/or walk for up to six hours in
an eight-hour workday. He is limited to frequently operating
foot controls with his bilateral lower extremities, and
occasionally climbing ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping,
kneeling, crouching, and crawling, and can never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can frequently
handle and finger bilaterally, and can have no exposure to
unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts.
(Id.) At the fourth step, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work.
(Id. at 29-30.) Finally, at step five, the ALJ found
there were other jobs that existed in significant No. in the
national economy that Plaintiff could perform such as cashier
II, mail sorter, and marker. (Id. at 30-31.)
Consequently, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled from the alleged onset date through the decision
date. (Id. at 31.)
ISSUES AND ANALYSIS
raises several issues in his brief. (Docket Entry 10.) First,
Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred in weighing the opinion
evidence. (Id. at 6-13.) Second, Plaintiff argues
the ALJ erred in assessing Plaintiffs subjective statements
about his symptoms. (Id. at 13-17.) Third Plaintiff
claims that substantial evidence does not support the RFC.
(Id. at 13-14.) For the following reasons, these
objections lack merit.
ALJ Properly Weighed the Opinion Evidence.
alleges that the ALJ erred in giving too little weight to
Plaintiffs treating physician Dr. Kwadwo Gyarteng-Dakwa and
consultative examiner Dr. Michael Bunch's opinions.
(Id. at 6-13.) Plaintiffs argument requires the
Court to consider whether the ALJ evaluated Dr.
Gyarteng-Dakwa's opinion in accordance with the treating
physician rule and Dr. Bunch's opinion in accordance with
the regulations regarding non-treating medical sources. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2).
treating source rule requires an ALJ to give controlling
weight to the opinion of a treating source regarding the
nature and severity of a claimant's impairment.
Id. The rule also recognizes, however, that not all
treating sources or treating source opinions merit the same
deference. Id. The nature and extent of each
treatment relationship appreciably tempers the weight an ALJ
affords an opinion. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)(H).
Moreover, as subsections (2) through (4) of the rule describe
in detail, a treating source's opinion, like all medical
opinions including those by nontreating sources, deserves
deference only if well supported by medical signs and
laboratory findings and consistent with the other substantial
evidence in the case record. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(2)-(4). "[I]f a physician's opinion is
not supported by clinical evidence or if it is inconsistent
with other substantial evidence, it should be accorded
significantly less weight." Craig, 76 F.3d at 590. When
declining to accord a treating source controlling weight, an
ALJ must articulate "good reasons" for doing so.
C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c).
matter before us, pain specialist Dr. Gyarteng-Dakwa treated
Plaintiff monthly for some period of time prior to and during
the relevant period. (Tr. 24, 253.) During that time, he
completed two medical source statements ("MSS").
(Tr. 28, 253, 743-46, 880.) The first, an October 2013
letter, "assessed disabling limitations, including that
the claimant could lift no more than five pounds and sit and
stand and/or walk for no more than one hour each."
(Id. at 28, 253, 880.) The ALJ considered Dr.
Gyarteng-Dakwa's letter, but concluded that it was
"notably incomplete and lacking in relevant details,
including the claimant's name and dates of
treatment" and was "not supported by any
explanation or clinical findings." (Id.) Dr.
Gyarteng-Dakwa's letter amply supports this conclusion.
The ALJ therefore properly gave the October 2013 letter
little weight. See Coleman v. Colvin, No. 1:15CV751,
2016 WL 4223583, at *6 (M.D. N.C. Aug. 9, 2016), (The ALJ
properly assigned no weight to nurse practitioner's
opinions where she provided "little-to-no explanation of
the evidence used to form her opinions, which [we]re set
forth either in short and conclusory letters or in a check
box form, and the record lack[ed] objective medical evidence
in support of her conclusory assertions."), report and
recommendation adopted, No. 1:15CV751, 2016 WL 5372817 (M.D.
N.C. Sept. 26, 2016).
second, May 2014 MSS, Dr. Gyarteng-Dakwa opined Plaintiff
could sit and stand and/or walk less than two hours each in
an eight-hour workday; could frequently or occasionally lift
less than ten pounds; needed the freedom to alternate among
sitting, standing, and/or walking at will; would need to walk
around or stretch for more than five minutes when
transitioning from sitting to standing; could
"rarely" use his hands, fingers, and arms to grasp
or turn objects, perform fine manipulations, or reach; would
have symptoms or side effects from medication that would
frequently preclude the attention and concentration needed to
perform even simple work tasks; would "very
frequently" need to take unscheduled breaks during an
eight-hour workday due to "muscle spasms"; and
would likely be absent more than four days per month due to
his symptoms, treatment, and impairments. (Id. at
gave good reasons for declining to accord Dr.
Gyarteng-Dakwa's May 2014 opinion controlling or more
than partial weight. First, the ALJ noted that Dr.
Gyarteng-Dakwa's own diagnoses, treatment notes, and
course of treatment failed to support the extreme ...