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Lopez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

April 8, 2019

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


          Joe L. Webster, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Ginger Pack Lopez 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.


         Plaintiff filed applications for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) alleging disability beginning April 2014. (Tr. at 234-51, 267.) For the purposes of DIB, Plaintiff's date last insured is December 31, 2016. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Id. at 115, 132.) After a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) determined on January 26, 2017 that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Id. at 11-25.) The Appeals Council denied a request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision for purposes of review. (Id. at 1-6.)


         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.


         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. (Tr. 12.) The ALJ next found the following severe impairments at step two: multiple sclerosis, obesity, and intermittent tendonitis of the achilles tendon, but that other medically determinable impairments were not severe, including anxiety and depression. (Id. at 13-16.) 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. (Id. at 17-19.)

         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 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except that she will need to stand for two to three minutes every sixty to ninety minutes and she can only occasionally stoop and climb stairs; she can crouch, crawl, and kneel less than occasionally, which is less than one to two times per day; and she can never climb ladders. The claimant should not be exposed to hazards such as unprotected heights or moving machinery, and she should work in a temperature controlled environment, especially one without excessive heat. The claimant further has the ability to carry out both simple and detailed tasks, but not complex ones, and the job should not be stressful in terms of pace, demands, or work-related judgments. Finally, the claimant should have limited public contact, and her interaction with others should be occasional and on a basic level.

(Tr. 17.) At the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. (Id. at 20.) Last, at step five, the ALJ concluded that there were jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id. at 20-21.)


         Plaintiff argues the following assignment(s) of error: (1) The ALJ's step five determination is not supported by substantial evidence; (2) Plaintiff's mental RFC determination is unsupported by substantial evidence; and (3) the ALJ's credibility determination is unsupported by substantial evidence. (Document Entry 8 at 1.) For the following reasons, Plaintiff has failed to identify any material error.

         A. The ALJ's Step Five Determination Is Supported by ...

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