United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION
T. Numbers, II, United States Magistrate Judge
Denise Davis instituted this action in July 2018 to challenge
the denial of her application for social security income.
Davis claims that Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Gary Brockington erred in (1) determining
her residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and (2)
failing to accord proper weight to the medical opinion
evidence. Both Davis and Defendant Andrew Saul, Commissioner
of Social Security, have filed motions seeking a judgment on
the pleadings in their favor. D.E. 19, 21.
reviewing the parties' arguments, the undersigned has
determined that ALJ Brockington reached the appropriate
determination. The undersigned finds that ALJ
Brockington's RFC allowed Davis to use a cane in the
appropriate circumstances. And ALJ Brockington properly
considered the medical evidence and explained why the
treating provider's opinion deserved limited weight.
Therefore, the district court should deny Davis's motion,
grant the Commissioner's motion, and affirm the
2015 Davis applied for disability insurance benefits and
later applied for supplemental security income. In both
applications, Davis alleged a disability that began in March
2015. After her claims were denied at the initial level and
upon reconsideration, Davis appeared before an ALJ
Brockington for a hearing to determine whether she was
entitled to benefits. ALJ Brockington determined Davis was
not entitled to benefits because she was not disabled. Tr. at
Brockington found that Davis had several severe impairments:
obesity, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with
radiculopathy, lumbar spinal stenosis and spondylosis,
sciatica, chronic pain syndrome, depressive disorder, anxiety
disorder, panic disorder, and sleep/wake disorder. Tr. at 16.
ALJ Brockington also found that Davis's impairments,
either alone or in combination, did not meet or equal a
Listing impairment. Tr. at 18.
Brockington then determined that Davis had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced
range of light work. Tr. at 20. Davis requires the option of
standing for one to five minutes after 30 minutes of sitting
and to sit for one to five minutes after 30 minutes of
standing or walking. Id.
occasionally push, pull, and operate foot controls with the
lower left extremity. Davis can occasionally climb ramps or
stairs but she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.
Id. Davis can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl. Id. She can have occasional
exposure to vibration, hazardous machinery, or hazardous
moving mechanical parts, but no exposure to unprotected
is limited to jobs that can be performed while using a
handheld assistive device (a cane). Id. Davis
requires the assistive device at all times when she is
walking. Id. She could use her opposite hand and arm
to lift and carry up to the exertional limits. Id.
work is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks not
performed at a production-rate pace. Id. She can
make simple, work-related decisions. Id. Davis may
have frequent interactions with co-workers and supervisors
but only occasional interaction with the public. Id.
She would be off-task no more than 10% of the time in an
eight-hour workday, besides normal breaks (with normal breaks
defined as 15-minute morning and afternoon breaks and a
30-minute lunch break). Id.
Brockington concluded that Davis could not perform her past
relevant work as a records clerk, cashier checker, or
security guard. Tr. at 26. But considering her age,
education, work experience, and RFC, ALJ Brockington found
that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national
economy that Davis could perform. Id. These include
shipping and receiving weigher, laundry folder, and small
parts assembler. Tr. at 27. Even if Davis were limited to
sedentary work with the same limitations, there were jobs
that Davis could perform. These jobs include document
preparer and final assembler. Tr. at 27-28. Thus, ALJ
Brockington found that Davis was not disabled. Tr. at 28.
unsuccessfully seeking review by the Appeals Council, Davis
began this action in July 2018. D.E. 5.
Standard for Review of the Acting Commissioner's Final
social security claimant appeals a final decision of the
Commissioner, the district court's review is limited to
determining whether, based on the entire administrative
record, there is substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's findings. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Substantial evidence is defined as “evidence which a
reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a
particular conclusion.” Shively v. Heckler,
739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984) (quoting Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). The
court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is
supported by substantial evidence. Smith v. Chater,
99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996).
Standard for Evaluating Disability
making a disability determination, the ALJ engages in a
five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520;
see Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650 (4th Cir.
2005). The ALJ must consider the factors in order. At step
one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. At step two, the claim is
denied if the claimant does not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments significantly limiting him or her
from performing basic work activities. At step three, the
claimant's impairment is compared to those in the Listing
of Impairments. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
App. 1. If the impairment is listed in the Listing of
Impairments or if it is equivalent to a listed impairment,
disability is conclusively presumed. But if the
claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed
impairment, the ALJ assesses the claimant's RFC to
determine, at step four, whether he can perform his past work
despite his impairments. If the claimant cannot perform past
relevant work, the analysis moves on to step five:
establishing whether the claimant, based on his age, work
experience, and RFC can perform other substantial gainful
work. The burden of proof is on the claimant for the first
four steps of this inquiry, but shifts to the Commissioner at
the fifth step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203
(4th Cir. 1995).
suffered a work-related back injury in March 2015 when she
was involved in an altercation with a customer. Tr. at 21.
Ten months later, she again injured her back while lifting a
heavy box. Id.
October 2015, Dr. Constant Masere performed a consultative
examination. Tr. at 24. He concluded that Davis could sit
normally during an eight-hour workday but she had moderate
limitations on standing, ...