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Briggs v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

February 12, 2019

ELIZABETH CHRISTINE BRIGGS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Joe L. Webster, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Elizabeth Christine Briggs brought this action to obtain review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for supplemental security income. The Court has before it the certified administrative record and cross-motions for judgment.[1]

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed applications for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) alleging disability beginning October 25, 2009. (Tr. at 66, 79, 94, 109.) For the purposes of DIB, Plaintiff's date last insured is December 31, 2014. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Id. at 92-93, 124-25.) After a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) determined on August 21, 2017 that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Id. at 10-22, 36-65.) The Appeals Council denied a request for review, making the ALJ's decision the 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. Schweiker, 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). In reviewing for substantial evidence, the Court does 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 is not whether Plaintiff is disabled but whether the finding that she is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and 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. See Albright v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). The ALJ determined at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of May 23, 2014.[2] (Tr. 23.) The ALJ next found the following severe impairments at step two: obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes mellitus type 2 with neuropathy, right knee osteoarthritis, major depressive disorder and borderline personality disorder. (Id. at 13.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to, one listed in Appendix 1. (Tr. 24.)

         The ALJ next set forth Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) and determined that she could perform the following:

Sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) with no requirement to climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. All other postural are occasional. No push or pull with her lower extremities. No concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures. No requirement to work among crowds of the general public. No complex tasks. Simple, routine, repetitive tasks with occasional decision-making and occasional changes to the work duties. No tandem work and only casual, non-intense contact with others necessary to perform the work duties. (Id. at 16.)

         At the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. (Id. at 21.) Last, at step five, the ALJ concluded that there were jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id. at 22.)

         IV. ISSUES AND ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's mental RFC determination is unsupported by substantial evidence because the ALJ “failed to follow treating physician rule.” (Docket Entry 12 at 2.) Plaintiff also contends that “the ALJ failed to properly develop the record regarding Plaintiff's physical impairments . . . .” (Id.) For the following reasons, Plaintiff has failed to identify any material error.

         A. The ALJ Did Not Fail to Follow the ...


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