Sisson v. Astrue
ORDER DENYING 31 Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and GRANTING 40 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 8/10/2013. Counsel is directed to read Order in its entirety. (Fisher, M.)
Sisson v. Colvin
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 31 & 40]. A hearing on this matter was held in Edenton, North Carolina on
December 18, 2012. For the reasons detailed below, plaintiffs motion is DENIED and
defendant's motion is GRANTED. The decision of the Administrative Law Judge is
Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act on June 4, 2007. The plaintiff allegedly suffers from fibromyalgia and irritable
bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease, back pain, and bipolar disorder. Plaintiff then
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On April 13, 2010, the ALJ
heard the plaintiffs claim and on April 23, 2010, the ALJ issued her decision denying the
plaintiffs claim. Plaintiff then requested review by the Appeals Council and, on July 6, 2010, the
Appeals Council denied review rendering the ALJ' s decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. The plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
The plaintiff has suffered from various ailments, but has struggled with depression, a
diagnosis of bipolar disorder and other mental limitations. Specifically, the claimant functions at
a very low range of intelligence and has a full scale IQ of 64. [Tr. 296]. Despite his low IQ score,
the plaintiff scored significantly higher on Broad Reading and Broad Written Language
evaluations [Tr. 297] and has a solid work history. In February 2008, the plaintiff underwent a
mental residual functional capacity assessment and a psychiatric review at the request of DDS.
Dr. Mitchell Rapp, Ph.D. found that while the plaintiff suffered from some moderate limitations
in activities of daily living his past work history, and overall adaptive functioning did not support
a finding that he was mildly mentally retarded such that he would fall under Listing 12.04. [Tr.
335-337]. This assessment is supported by the plaintiffs statements regarding his ability to
function. Mr. Sisson stated that is able to do his own laundry and drive without difficulty. [Tr.
173]. Although he does not do much of the cooking, he is able to wash the dishes. !d. Finally, the
plaintiff has not experienced any episodes of decompensation. In February, 2010, the plaintiff
experienced some erratic behavior, but that behavior was perhaps attributable to plaintiffs
voluntary decision to stop taking his prescribed Prozac, which he admitted in March, 2010. [Tr.
406, 427]. When the plaintiff began taking new medication he was once again calm and his
speech, which has been pressured and tangential, was normal. [Tr. 406, 465, 468].
The scope of judicial review of a final decision regarding disability benefits under the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq., is limited to determining whether the findings of the
ALJ are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied. See Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (providing that
findings of fact shall be conclusive if supported by substantial evidence). "Substantial evidence"
has been defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support a
conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)(quoting Consolidated Edison Co.
v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197,229 (1938)). The Court must not substitute its judgment for that ofthe
Commission ifthe Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Hunter v.
Sullivan, 933 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (4th Cir. 1990)).
In 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 then, at step four, the claimant's residual
functional capacity ("RFC") is assessed to determine whether plaintiff 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. Chafer, 65 F.3d
1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995).
Here, the ALJ found that the plaintiff was not disabled because he did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.P.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Further, the ALJ determined that the
plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work. Finally, after
taking the testimony of a vocational expert ("VE"), the ALJ determined that, while the claimant
could not return to his past relevant work, the claimant is able to perform other work that exists
in significant numbers in the national economy. The ALJ's findings are supported by substantial
evidence and, as such, it is proper to affirm her determination that the claimant is not disabled
and,therefore, not entitled to benefits.
Listing 12.04 was at issue in this case. Subpart B of that listing requires that the claimant
suffer from at least two of the following:
Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or
Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; or
Marked difficulties in maintain concentration, persistence, or pace; or
Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration ...
In this context, marked refers to limitations that are more than moderate, but less than extreme.
DDS evaluations in the record revealed that the plaintiff suffered only from marked
restrictions. Those evaluations were corroborated by the plaintiffs own statements about his
ability to function, including his ability to drive without difficulty. They were also corroborated
by the plaintiffs high scores on language and reading evaluations. The ALJ relied on these
reports, finding some of the plaintiffs testimony to lack credibility, and committed no error in
doing so. Further, plaintiffs condition was apparently controlled when he complied with
prescribed medication dosing. The symptoms flowing from a claimant's failure to take
prescribed medication cannot support a finding of disability. See Gross v. Heckler, 785 F.2d
1163, 1166 (4th Cir. 1986). The plaintiff carries the burden at step three of the framework and
has failed to show that the plaintiff experiences marked difficulties in two of the 12.04B
categories. The ALJ' s findings were supported by substantial evidence and, as such, it is proper
to affirm her decision.
For the reasons outlined above, plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings is
DENIED, defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED. The decision of the
Administrative Law Judge is AFFIRMED.
This, the __j_J?__ day of August, 2013.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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