United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
cause comes before the Court on cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings. [DE 38, 41]. A hearing was held on these
matters before the undersigned on September 23, 2019, at
Elizabeth City, North Carolina. For the reasons discussed
below, plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings [DE
38] is DENIED and defendant's motion [DE 41] is GRANTED.
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review
of the final decision of the Commissioner denying his claim
for disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff filed his
applications in October 2014. After initial denials,
plaintiff was given a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) in February 2017. The ALJ issued an unfavorable
ruling, finding plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when
the Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for review.
Plaintiff then sought review of the Commissioner's
decision in this Court.
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), and
1383(c)(3), this Court's review of the Commissioner's
decision is limited to determining whether the decision, as a
whole, is supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner employed the correct legal standard.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650,
653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (internal quotation and
individual is considered disabled if he is unable "to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act
further provides that an individual "shall be determined
to be under a disability only if his physical or mental
impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not
only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering
his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other
kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
issued by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be followed in a disability case. 20
C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four,
but the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
If a decision regarding disability can be made at any step of
the process the inquiry ceases. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).
one, if the Social Security Administration determines that
the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. If not, then step two asks
whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination
of impairments. If the claimant has a severe .....
impairment, it is compared at step three to those in the
Listing of Impairments ("Listing") in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. If the claimant's impairment
meets or medically equals a Listing, disability is
conclusively presumed. If not, at step four, the
claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) is assessed
to determine if the claimant can perform his past relevant
work. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, then
the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show
that the claimant, based on his age, education, work
experience, and RFC, can perform other substantial gainful
work. If the claimant cannot perform other work, then he is
found to be disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §
case, the ALJ determined at step two that plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, other
disorders of the urinary tract, essential hypertension,
coronary artery disease, peptic ulcer, trigger finger of the
bilateral upper extremities, gastroesophageal reflux disease,
and rheumatoid arthritis. The ALJ found plaintiff did not
meet a Listing at step three. After determining his RFC, the
ALJ found plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a
security guard. The ALJ then proceeded to step five, and
found that, in the alternative, the plaintiff could perform
jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy.
argues the ALJ (1) failed to give specific reasons for the
weight afforded to plaintiffs symptom testimony and (2)
failed to include all of plaintiffs non-severe medical
conditions in his RFC.
Court finds that the ALJ did not fail to provide a
satisfactory explanation for the weight afforded to
plaintiffs symptom testimony, and that to the extent
additional explanation was required, any deficiency in the
explanation was harmless. The ALJ reviewed plaintiffs
testimony and accepted it only to the extent it was
consistent with objective medical and other evidence. Tr.
33-34. A claimant's allegations need not be accepted to
the extent they are inconsistent with other available
evidence. See Craig v. Chater, 16 F.3d 585, 595 (4th
Cir. 1996). The ALJ then proceeded to review the other
available evidence, much of which was inconsistent with
plaintiffs account. This included plaintiffs daily
activities, the medical evidence and treatment history, and
opinion evidence (including from plaintiffs consultative
examination and his treating cardiologist). The other
evidence is largely inconsistent with plaintiffs allegations
of his level of disability, and the ALJ only accepted such
allegations to the extent they were consistent with the
evidence. Any failure to elaborate further on the weight
afforded to plaintiffs testimony is harmless error because
there is no realistic possibility the ALJ would have reached
a different conclusion in the face of the rest of the
evidence. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding
and the Court finds no reversible error.
second argument is that the ALJ failed to include limitations
for plaintiffs non-severe anxiety in his RFC, specifically,
the cumulative effect the anxiety would have in conjunction
with his other severe impairments. But the record shows
little, if any, evidence of ongoing mental health treatment,
and plaintiffs psychiatric examinations have been normal. The
ALJ addressed what little evidence there was regarding
plaintiffs anxiety in step two, determining that it was not