United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
RENEA B. LAXTON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
Webster United States Magistrate Judge.
Renea B. Laxton brought this action to obtain review of a
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying
her claim for social security disability insurance benefits.
The Court has before it the certified administrative record
and cross-motions for judgment.
filed an application for disability insurance benefits
alleging a disability onset date of June 6, 2013. (Tr.
266-72.) The application was denied initially and
upon reconsideration. (Id. at 240-43, 248-51.) An
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing
and then determined, on May 3, 2017, that Plaintiff was not
disabled. (Id. at 152-62, 168-202.) On March 23,
2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. (Id. at 1-5.)
STANDARD FOR REVIEW
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.
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). The ALJ determined at step one that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the alleged onset date of June 6, 2013. (Tr. 154.) The
ALJ next found the following severe impairments at step two:
traumatic brain injury, right mild sensorineural hearing loss
and left mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss,
post-traumatic stress disorder, unspecified depressive
disorder, neurocognitive disorder, and migraines.
(Id.) 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 154-56.) The ALJ next set forth
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and determined that she could perform
light work, except that
she should avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected
heights, moving machinery and other workplace hazards. She
should avoid even moderate exposure to excessive noise. She
is limited to simple routine repetitive tasks in unskilled
work and not at a production rate. She should be in a low
stress environment, meaning no constant changes in routine,
no complex decision-making, and no crisis situations. She can
have occasional interaction with the public, supervisors and
coworkers, and she can stay on task for two hours at a time
throughout the workday.
(Id. at 156.)
fourth step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to
perform any past relevant work as a restaurant manager,
correction case manager, and correction officer.
(Id. at 161.) Last, at step five, the ALJ concluded
that there were jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform. (Id. at 161-62.) Consequently, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at
ISSUES AND ANALYSIS
raises several issues on appeal. First, Plaintiff argues that
the ALJ's evaluation of her headaches is not supported by
substantial evidence. (Docket Entry 11 at 8-13.) Next,
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's evaluation of
Plaintiff's ability to focus and concentrate is not
supported by substantial evidence. (Id. at 13-14.)
Third, Plaintiff contends that, in assessing the severity of
her symptoms, the ALJ failed to consider her recent
neurological treatment, misrepresented her mental-health
treatment, and failed to consider her past work history and
desire to work. (Id. at 15-17.) Lastly, Plaintiff
argues that new and material evidence regarding her headaches
requires remand. (Id. at 17-21.) For the following
reasons, the undersigned finds that Plaintiff's arguments
The ALJ's evaluation of Plaintiff's headaches is
supported by substantial evidence.
argues the ALJ's evaluation of Plaintiff's headaches
is not supported by substantial evidence. (Docket Entry 11 at
8-13.) More specially, Plaintiff takes issue with the
ALJ's findings regarding Plaintiff's headaches when
formulating the RFC. RFC measures the most a claimant can do
in a work setting despite the physical and mental limitations
of his impairment and any related symptom (e.g.,
pain). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1); see
also Dunn v. Colvin, 607 Fed.Appx. 264, 272 (4th Cir.
2015) (unpublished) (“[an] RFC is [a] medical
assessment of what an individual can do in a work setting in
spite of the functional limitations and environmental
restrictions imposed by all of his or her medically
determinable impairment(s).”) (internal citation
omitted); Hines v. Barnhart,453 F.3d 559, 562 (4th
Cir. 2006). The RFC includes both a “physical
exertional or strength limitation” that assesses ...