Richardson v. Colvin
ORDER denying 16 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings; granting 18 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Signed by District Judge Terrence W. Boyle on 2/13/2017. (Stouch, L.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
TRACEY GENE RICHARDSON,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,
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 12, 2017, 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) and supplemental security income (SSI) pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act. Plaintiff filed for DIB on July 31, 2012 and protectively filed for SSI on
January 25, 2012, alleging in both applications disability since December 3, 2009. After initial
denials, a videohearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who considered the
claim de novo and issued an unfavorable ruling. The ALJ' s decision became the final decision
of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on January
9, 2016. Plaintiff then timely sought review of the Commissioner's decision in this Court.
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
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
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 of the process the inquiry ceases. See 20 C.F.R. §§
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. Plaintiffs history of
a fracture of the right upper extremity, post-traumatic arthritis, history of right-sided carpal
tunnel syndrome, obesity, and adjustment disorder were considered severe impairments at step
two but were not found alone or in combination to meet or equal a Listing at step three. The ALJ
concluded that plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work with additional exertional and nonexertional limitations. The ALJ then found that plaintiff was unable to return to his past relevant
work as a bridge carpenter, wood working machine operator, or welder, but that, considering
plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. Thus, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff was not disabled as of the date of his decision, June 25, 2014.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in finding that plaintiff could perform light work and
that the ALJ erred in his credibility determinations. The Court addresses each of plaintiff's
assignments of error in tum.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC finding is not supported by substantial evidence in
that the medical evidence supports a finding that plaintiff is more restricted in his ability to use
his right upper extremity than as found by the ALJ. Plaintiff further argues that he cannot
perform the lifting requirements of light work and that the ALJ did not engage in a full functionby-function analysis when determining plaintiff's RFC.
Light work requires a claimant to lift no more than twenty pounds at a time with frequent
lifting or carrying often pounds. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). In 2008, plaintiff was in an
automobile accident and sustained a complicated right ulnar fracture at the elbow. Tr. 432-36.
Plaintiff had two subsequent surgeries to the site, the second of which occurred in February
2009. Tr. 377-84. In January 2010, plaintiff was assessed with an arc of motion from 10-100,
no crepitus or grinding, no effusion, and motor and sensory nerves intact. Tr. 372. Although
plaintiff had presented with pain exacerbated by cold weather, his surgeon explained that there
were no further treatment options that he could provide. Id Plaintiff returned to his surgeon in
July 2012 with complaints of pain and reduced range of motion. Plaintiff's physician noted that
plaintiff lacked about ten degrees of full extension and forty-five degrees of supination, had full
flexion and pronation, and normal nerve studies. Tr. 364. Plaintiff's surgeon noted that
additional surgery could make plaintiffs condition worse and recommended conservative
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that plaintiff could perform a reduced
range of light work. Although plaintiff asserts that he is unable to perform the lifting
requirements of light work he has not identified any evidence in the record which would support
a more restricted lifting limitation. Further, the ALJ accounted for plaintiffs additional
limitations, including carpal tunnel syndrome in the left wrist, by requiring push/pull and
manipulative limitations in the RFC. Tr. 19. Finally, while '"remand may be appropriate where
an ALJ fails to assess a claimant's capacity to perform relevant functions, despite contradictory
evidence in the record, or where other inadequacies in the ALJ' s analysis frustrate meaningful
review,"' Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal alteration omitted)
(quoting Cichocki v. Astrue, 729 F.3d 172, 177 (2nd Cir. 2013)), the Court does not find remand
to be necessary here as the ALJ sufficiently addressed plaintiffs relevant limitations and
functional capacities in this case. Tr. 16-19.
An ALJ's credibility determination is generally entitled to great deference. Shively v.
Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989-90 (4th Cir. 1984). The ALJ here properly considered the nature of
prescribed treatments and plaintiffs daily activities when making his credibility determination
and assessing plaintiffs subjective testimony. Craig v. Chafer, 76 F.3d 585, 595 (4th Cir. 1996);
see also Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 179 (4th Cir. 2001) (reported daily activities may
undermine subjective complaints); Gross v. Heckler, 785 F.2d 1163, 1165 (4th Cir. 1986)
(response to conservative treatment may be evidence a condition is not disabling). Specifically,
the ALJ considered that while plaintiffs complaints of arm pain continued after his surgery, his
physical examinations revealed intact manual dexterity, normal nerve study, and prescriptions
for conservative treatment. Tr. 18-19. Plaintiff has not presented a sufficient basis upon which
to question the ALJ' s credibility determination.
In sum, the ALJ's decision reflects application of the correct legal standards and a
thorough consideration of the medical record and testimony. The decision of the Commissioner
is supported by substantial evidence and is therefore AFFIRMED. Plaintiffs motion for
judgment on the pleadings [DE 16] is DENIED and defendant's motion for judgment on the
pleadings [DE 18] is GRANTED.
SO ORDERED, this
day of February, 2017.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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