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Shaw v. Berryhill

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

March 28, 2019

LINDSEY SHAW, Plaintiffs,


          Graham C. Mullen, United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER COMES before this Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 12) and Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 15). Having carefully considered the motions and reviewed the record, the Court enters the following findings, conclusions, and Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The procedural history of this matter is as stated in the Commissioner's memorandum of law supporting the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         The ALJ's findings relevant to this proceeding are as follows: Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2011. (Tr. 13). Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. (Id.). Plaintiff has a combination of impairments that more than minimally affect her ability to perform work related activities and are thus considered to be “severe.” (Id.). However, Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14).

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

she is precluded from climbing ropes, ladders and scaffolds and limited to occasional ramp and stair climbing, kneeling, crouching and crawling. She must be allowed to alternate between sitting and standing with the ability to change positions twice per hour. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations and work place hazards such as heights and dangerous machinery. In addition, the claimant is limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks in a non-production environment, unskilled work, and should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat and cold; with no contact with the general public and no proximity to co-workers (cannot perform as member of a team).

(Tr. 15). The ALJ found in the fourth step that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 24). Finally, at the fifth step, the ALJ concluded based on Plaintiff's limitations that there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 25). Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Id.).


         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.


         On appeal, Plaintiff asserts the ALJ made three errors in his decision: (1) the ALJ erred by misstating Plaintiff's evidence of record; (2) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's medical impairments; and (3) the ALJ failed to evaluate Plaintiff's complaints of pain under Fourth Circuit precedent.

         First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred when the ALJ stated “[a]s for the opinion evidence, no treating or examining physician provided an opinion that the claimant as [sic] unable to work. Therefore the undersigned has given substantial weight to the findings of the State Agency medical consultants.” (Doc. No. 12-1) (quoting Tr. 23). Plaintiff argues this misstates the evidence of record because at least two doctors who examined Plaintiff kept her out of work or noted that she had impairments that inhibited her ability to work. (Tr. 580, 843).

         “Medical opinions are statements from . . . acceptable medical sources that reflect judgments about the nature and severity of your impairment(s), including your symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis, what you can still do despite impairment(s), and your physical or mental restrictions.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(a)(2), 416.927(a)(2). The agency will always consider the medical opinions in the case record, together with the rest of the evidence received, and it will evaluate every medical opinion that it receives. See Id. ยงยง 404.1527(b)-(c), 416.927(b)-(c). (b). Adjudicators at the hearing level or ...

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