Gray v. Colvin
ORDER DENYING 21 Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and GRANTING 22 Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. The decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. Signed by US District Judge Terrence W. Boyle on 3/6/2014. Copy mailed to pro se plaintiff via US mail. (Fisher, M.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for judgment on the
pleadings [DE 21, 22]. For the reasons detailed below, plaintiffs motion is DENIED and
defendant's motion is GRANTED. The decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
On March 24, 2010, plaintiff applied for supplemental security income ("SSI") based on
disability, under Title XVI ofthe Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. After his
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, a hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on February 8, 2012. On May 3, 2012, the ALJ issued a
decision denying the claims. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Gray's request for review thereby
rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Prose plaintiff now seeks
judicial review ofthe ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).
Mr. Gray claims he is disabled due to depression, chronic pain, asthma, a personality
disorder, hypertension, renal insufficiency, heart murmur, myopia, pain in his lower back, right
hip, and neck, and left ventricular hypertrophy. [Tr. 171, 295]. The relevant period oftime in this
case is from March 24, 2010 (the date of plaintiffs SSI application) through May 3, 2012 (the
date of the ALJ' s decision.
In June 2007, plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident and was treated for back
and left arm injuries. [Tr. 337-40]. Plaintiff complained of neck and back pain and, in July 2007,
was diagnosed with sprains in the neck and back, muscle spasms, joint pain, and elevated blood
pressure. [Tr. 354-56]. In December 2008, plaintiff was involved in another motor vehicle
accident. [Tr. 370]. Although no acute trauma was present, plaintiff was hospitalized for
abnormal heart readings and hypertension. [Tr. 382]. At discharge he was diagnosed with a
hypertensive emergency that was treated with medications, anemia, cough, tobacco use, and
stable asthma. [Tr. 370].
Plaintiff began going to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center ("VAMC") in Asheville for
primary care in February 2009. [Tr. 569]. It was noted that he had "asymptomatic" hypertension,
chest pain, asthma, neck and back pain, and poor dentition. [Tr. 570]. He was prescribed
hypertension medications, but did not take them as directed. [Tr. 560]. Subsequent VA notes
through June of2009 document diagnoses of mild emphysema (treated with inhalers) [Tr. 553], a
heart that was working well but had a murmur that was not causing problems and did not require
treatment [Tr. 550; 538], and possible sleep apnea. [Tr. 543]. In August 2009 Plaintiff was
diagnosed with depression and was treated with psychotherapy and medication [Tr. 526-27]
through October 2009. [See Tr. 505-13, 520].
In November 2009, plaintiff went to VAMC Asheville's emergency department for
complaints of pain in his chest, back, and neck, as well as anxiety and depression. [Tr. 587].
MRis showed disc disease, and cardiac tests were normal, so plaintiff was scheduled to be
discharged. [!d.]. However, plaintiff mentioned suicidal ideations and was hospitalized. [!d.]. At
discharge in December 2009, plaintiff was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, personality
disorder, chronic pain disorder, hypertension, renal insufficiency, COPD/asthma, heart murmur,
myopia, LVH, and pain in the low back, right hip, and neck. [Tr. 588].
Throughout the relevant period plaintiff was seen by a variety of physicians and
psychiatrists and had his record evidence reviewed on several occasions. The doctors listed his
impairments as minimal to mild for the most part with some areas of moderate limitations. [Tr.
1092]. Physically plaintiff was limited to lifting/carrying 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds
frequently, standing or walking for 6 hours in an 8 hour workday, and sitting for 6 hours in an 8
hour workday. [Tr. 1107--08]. Plaintiff was also to avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors,
dusts, gases, poor ventilation and hazards. [Tr. 11 08].
Pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court's review of the
Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision, as a
whole, is supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner employed the correct
legal standards. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990) (citing Richardson v.
Pearles, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971)). "'[S]upported by substantial evidence' means 'such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."' Id (quoting
Pearles, 402 U.S. at 401). Regulations establish a five-step sequential evaluation process to be
followed when determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920.
"The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four, but the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five." Rogers v. Barnhart, 216 Fed. App'x 345, 348 (4th Cit. 2007) (citing
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987)).
It is unclear at exactly which step in the process plaintiff claims the ALJ erred. Plaintiffs
supporting memorandum [DE 21] complains that the ALJ's decision is not based on the facts and
claims that physician testimony says that he is unemployable and that he takes 19 medications a
day some of which make him drowsy. However, a review of the evidence in the record shows
that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and correct legal
standards were used.
The ALJ found that plaintiffs impairments limited him to medium work with only
occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling, only occasional
exposure to fumes, dust, gas, poor ventilation, unprotected heights, and mechanical parts, and
only simple, routine, repetitive tasks with a specific vocational profile of 1 or 2, low stress, no
production or pace work deadlines with a predictable schedule, and frequent but not constant
interaction with supervisors, co-workers, and the general public. [Tr. 59-60].
The ALJ' s finding is supported by all of the medical opinions as to plaintiffs functional
limitations. As to plaintiffs physical functional limitations, state agency physicians found that
plaintiff was less limited than the ALJ ultimately found. The medical opinions in the record
constitute substantial evidence and support the ALJ's findings.
Plaintiffs complaints of drowsiness are not supported by the medical evidence from the
relevant period either by treatment notes or examination reports. Further, plaintiffs own
statements regarding his daily activities do not support his claim of disabling drowsiness.
Plaintiff complains that he was deemed "unemployable" during his 32 day hospitalization
in Asheville, but the medical records from the hospitalization do not support that. While noting
that he was unemployed [Tr. 607], there is no opinion that he is unemployable.
Further, the ALJ' s determination that plaintiff could perform a significant number of
other jobs existing in the national economy is supported by substantial evidence. A Vocational
Expert testified at the ALJ' s hearing. The expert testified that, for an individual of plaintiffs age,
education, work experience, and functional limitations as found by the ALJ, such an individual
could perform work existing in the national economy. [Tr. 59--60]. The VE identified examples
of such work and testified to the numbers of existing jobs both nationally and state-wide. [Id].
This is substantial evidence that supports the ALJ' s decision.
It is clear that the ALJ's finding is supported by substantial evidence in the record and
therefore the Court affirms the final decision of the Commissioner.
For the reasons outlined above, defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is
GRANTED and plaintiffs motion is DENIED. The decision of the Commissioner is
AFFIRMED. The clerk is directed to close the file.
__f2_ day of March, 2014.
T RRENCE W. BOYLE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUD
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?