Shaw v. Colvin
ORDER DENYING 14 Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings,and GRANTING 16 Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings: The decision of the Administrative Law Judge is affirmed. Signed by US District Judge Terrence W. Boyle on 2/4/2015. (Fisher, M.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
CARSON SHAW, JR.,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner ofSocial Security,
This cause comes before the Court on cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. A
hearing was held on these matters before the undersigned on January 14, 2015, at Elizabeth City,
North Carolina. For the reasons discussed below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.
Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for review of the
final decision of the Commissioner denying his claim for disability and disability insurance
benefits (DIB) pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act.
Plaintiff filed for DIB on
September 9, 2010, alleging disability since November 3, 2009. After initial denials, a hearing
was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who issued an unfavorable ruling. The
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied
plaintiffs request for review. Plaintiff timely sought review of the Commissioner's decision in
Under 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
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
An 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 line of substantial
gainful work which exists in the national economy." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Regulations 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 ofthe process, however, the inquiry ceases. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).
At step 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. Pt. 404, Subpt. 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 so, the claim is denied. 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.
At step one, the ALJ determined that plaintiff met the insured status requirements and
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date.
degenerative disc disease of the lumber and cervical spine, obesity, right elbow synovitis, status
post injury were considered severe impairments at step two but were not found alone or in
combination to meet or equal a Listing at step three. After finding plaintiffs statements not
entirely credible, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff could perform light work with exertional and
nonexertional limitations. The ALJ then found that plaintiff could not return to his past relevant
work, but found that, considering plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs
existed in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. Thus, the
ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of her decision.
Plaintiff contends that this case should be remanded for proper treatment of a treating
source opinion and consideration of an opinion on disability by another governmental agency.
Substantial evidence supports the decision of the ALJ in this instance. While the ALJ did
not specifically address the opinion of Dr. Barnwell, such opinion was not germane to plaintiffs
disability determination. Dr. Barnwell opined in January 2006, following a motor vehicle
accident, that plaintiff would be unable to lift or push/pull more than five pounds. Tr. 258. In
February 2006, Dr. Barnwell opined that plaintiff could return to work with no restrictions. Tr.
348-49. Because plaintiffs alleged onset date was November 3, 2009, and Dr. Barnwell's
limitation on plaintiffs exertional abilities lasted only a brief period, failure to mention Dr.
Barnwell's opinion in this disability determination was not error.
Plaintiff next contends that the ALJ erred in failing to discuss plaintiffs Workers'
Compensation decision. While decisions from other governmental agencies cannot be ignored as
they may provide insight into a claimant's abilities, SSR 06-3p, the record does not reflect a
decision by another governmental agency in this case. Rather, the record demonstrates that
plaintiff settled his Workers' Compensation claim with his employer. Tr. 188-200. Moreover,
the ALJ expressly considered the settlement and found plaintiff to be limited to a lower
exertionallevel than was discussed in plaintiffs Workers' Compensation settlement, which
found plaintiff to have a two-percent permanent partial impairment and that plaintiff could
perform medium duty work. Tr. 190-91. Thus, even ifthe ALJ should have provided more
detail in discussing plaintiffs Workers' Compensation settlement, any error was harmless.
Therefore, because substantial evidence supports her decision and the correct legal
standard was employed, the decision of the ALJ is affirmed.
For the foregoing reasons, plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings [DE 14] is
DENIED and defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings [DE 16] is GRANTED. The
decision of the ALJ is AFFIRMED.
SO ORDERED, t h i s + day of February, 2015.
J.IL,.l'u'-LNCE W. BOYL
UNITED STATES DISTRIC
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