United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION
T. Numbers, II, United States Magistrate Judge.
Julie Harrell instituted this action in November
to challenge the denial of her application for social
security income. Harrell claims that Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Sharon L. Madsen erred in evaluating the
medical opinion evidence. Both Harrell and Defendant Andrew
Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, have filed motions
seeking a judgment on the pleadings in their favor. D.E. 17,
reviewing the parties' arguments, the court has
determined that ALJ Madsen reached the appropriate
determination. The undersigned cannot find any fault in her
assessment of the medical opinion evidence from the
non-examining state agency physicians. The undersigned
magistrate judge therefore recommends that the court deny
Harrell's motion, grant the Commissioner's motion,
and affirm the Commissioner's
August 2013, Harrell applied for disability benefits and, in
December 2015, applied for supplemental security income. In
both applications, Harrell alleged a disability that began in
March 2009. After her claim was denied at the initial level
and upon reconsideration, Harrell appeared at a hearing
before ALJ Madsen to determine whether she was entitled to
benefits. ALJ Madsen determined that Harrell had no right to
benefits because she was not disabled. Tr. at 17-30.
Madsen found that Harrell had several severe impairments:
cervical degenerative disc disease, mild degenerative joint
disease of the right hip, Factor 5 Leiden deficiency on
anticoagulant, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic
stress disorder (“PTSD”), and amphetamine
dependence. Tr. at 20. ALJ Madsen concluded that
Harrell's impairments, alone or in combination, did not
meet or equal a Listing impairment. Id.
Madsen determined that Harrell had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of
light work. Tr. at 21. Harrell is limited to occasional
overhead reaching. Id. She cannot climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds. Id. Harrell cannot work around
unprotected heights and she must avoid exposure to sharp
object such as knives. Id. And Harrell can perform
simple, routine tasks. Id.
Madsen concluded that Harrell cannot perform her past
relevant work as a retail store manager or inspector and hand
packager. Tr. at 28. But considering her age, education, work
experience, and RFC, ALJ Madsen found that jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that Harrell
could perform. Tr. at 29. These include marker, garment
sorter, and garment bagger. Id. Thus, ALJ Madsen
found that Harrell was not disabled. Tr. at 29-30.
unsuccessfully seeking review by the Appeals Council, Harrell
began this action in November 2017. D.E. 1.
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)). If the
Commissioner's decision is supported by such evidence, it
must be affirmed. Harrell 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 analysis requires the ALJ to consider the
following enumerated factors sequentially. At step one, if
the claimant is currently 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. However, 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).
at Mineral King Surgical Associates Clinic examined Harrell
in February and March 2012. Tr. at 561-62, 814-15. She had
normal motor strength and intact sensation. Id. In
August 2012, testing revealed mild degenerative changes and
moderate neural foraminal stenosis in Harrell's cervical
spine. Tr. at 23.
that year, Harrell's neck displayed tenderness from
C3-C7. Id. Her back appeared normal aside from
tenderness in the lumbosacral region. Id. Harrell
displayed positive bilateral straight leg ...