Dunn v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER denying Plaintiff's 12 Motion for Summary Judgment and granting Defendant's 14 Motion for Summary Judgment, and the Commissioner's decision is affirmed. Signed by Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer on 8/9/2017. (nvc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
CIVIL NO. 5:17-CV-8-DSC
JENNIFER ANN DUNN,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,
Acting Commissioner of Social
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff’s “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings”
(document #12) and Defendant’s “Motion for Summary Judgment” (document #14), as well as the
parties’ briefs and exhibits.
The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)
and these Motions are now ripe for disposition.
Having considered the written arguments, administrative record, and applicable authority,
the Court finds that Defendant’s decision to deny Plaintiff Social Security disability benefits is
supported by substantial evidence.
Accordingly, the Court will deny Plaintiff’s Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings; grant Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment; and affirm the
The procedural history is not in dispute. The Court adopts the procedural history as stated
in the parties’ briefs.
Plaintiff filed the present action on January 9, 2017.
She assigns error to the
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)’s evaluation of her dyshidrotic eczema, formulation of her
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”), and determination that she could perform her past relevant
work.1 See Plaintiff’s “Memorandum ...” at 3-12 (document #13).
The parties’ cross-Motions are ripe for disposition.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3), limits this Court's review of
a final decision of the Commissioner to: (1) whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner’s decision, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971); and (2) whether
the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards.
(4th Cir. 1990);
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456
see also Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992) (per curiam). The
District Court does not review a final decision of the Commissioner de novo.
Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986); King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir. 1979);
Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).
As the Social Security Act provides, “[t]he findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact,
if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.”
42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
In Smith v.
Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986), quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
(1971), the Fourth Circuit defined “substantial evidence” thus:
Substantial evidence has been defined as being “more than a scintilla and do[ing]
more than creat[ing] a suspicion of the existence of a fact to be established. It
means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
The Social Security Regulations define “Residual Functional Capacity” as “what [a claimant] can still do despite
his limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a). The Commissioner is required to “first assess the nature and extent of
[the claimant’s] physical limitations and then determine [the claimant’s] Residual Functional Capacity for work
activity on a regular and continuing basis.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(b).
support a conclusion.”
See also Seacrist v. Weinberger, 538 F.2d 1054, 1056-57 (4th Cir. 1976) (“We note that it is the
responsibility of the [Commissioner] and not the courts to reconcile inconsistencies in the medical
The Fourth Circuit has long emphasized that it is not for a reviewing court to weigh the
evidence again, nor to substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, assuming the
Commissioner’s final decision is supported by substantial evidence.
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d
at 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d at 345; and Blalock v. Richardson,
483 F.2d at 775. Indeed, this is true even if the reviewing court disagrees with the outcome – so
long as there is “substantial evidence” in the record to support the final decision below.
v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 838, 841 (4th Cir. 1982).
III. DISCUSSION OF CLAIM
The question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff became “disabled” at any time as that
term is defined for Social Security purposes.2
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ should have found her dyshidrotic eczema to be severe
because it significantly limited her physical ability to perform basic work related functions. The
ALJ found that Plaintiff only sporadically sought treatment for eczema and reported improvement
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 301, et seq., the term “disability” is defined as an:
inability 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 12 months . . . .
Pass v. Chater, 65 F. 3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995).
following treatment. (Tr. 13, 315, 322, 390, 450-51, 475, and 477). There was no evidence that
Plaintiff experienced any significant limitations resulting from eczema. (Tr. 14). Substantial
evidence supports the ALJ’s conclusion that Plaintiff’s eczema did not cause more than a minimal
limitation in her ability to work. (Tr. 13-14).
Plaintiff next challenges the ALJ’s formulation of her RFC. The ALJ is solely responsible
for assessing a claimant’s RFC.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1546(c) & 416.946(c).
In making that
assessment, the ALJ must consider the functional limitations resulting from the claimant’s
medically determinable impairments. SSR96-8p at *2. However, it is the claimant’s burden to
establish her RFC by demonstrating how those impairments impact her functioning.
C.F.R. §§404.1512(c) & 416.912(c); see also, e.g., Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 806 (8th
Cir. 2004) (“[t]he burden of persuasion . . . to demonstrate RFC remains on the claimant, even
when the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner at step five”); Plummer v. Astrue, No.
5:11-cv-00006, 2011 WL 7938431, at *5 (W.D.N.C. Sept. 26, 2011) (Memorandum and
Recommendation) (“[t]he claimant bears the burden of providing evidence establishing the degree
to which her impairments limit her RFC”) (citing Stormo), adopted, 2012 WL 1858844 (May 22,
2102), aff’d, 487 F. App’x 795 (4th Cir. Nov. 6, 2012).
The Fourth Circuit recently held that “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) (quoting Cichocki v. Astrue, 729 F.3d 172, 177 (2d Cir.
2013). This explicit function-by-function analysis is not necessary when functions are irrelevant
It is only after that function-by-function analysis has been completed that RFC
may "be expressed in terms of the exertional levels of work, sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and
very heavy.” Id.
The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC “to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1567(b) except that she could only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; frequently
climb and balance; and have no concentrated exposure to hazards.” (Tr. 15). The ALJ’s RFC
determination here is supported by substantial evidence including Plaintiff’s testimony, medical
records and treatment history.
To the extent that Plaintiff is challenging the ALJ’s credibility
determination, a review of the ALJ’s decision reveals that he applied the correct legal standard and
his credibility determination is supported by substantial evidence.
Finally, Plaintiff challenges the ALJ’s determination that she could perform her past relevant
work. She argues that the ALJ was required to consult a Vocational Expert (V.E.) or the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (“DOT”). This argument fails because the ALJ relied on a state agency expert’s
evaluation of Plaintiff’s past relevant work, which included the DOT description. (Tr. 15-19). Davis v.
Astrue, No. 2:10-cv-30, 2011 WL 399956, at *28 (N.D. W. Va. Jan. 11, 2011) (Mag. Rep. & Rec.)
(unpublished) adopted 2011 WL 442118 (N.D. W. Va. Feb. 2, 2011) (ALJ’s decision reasonably relied
on the DOT for evidence of the requirements of past employment, even where the ALJ did not provide a
pinpoint citation to the DOT in support).
Although the medical records establish that Plaintiff experienced pain and mental and
emotional difficulties to some extent, as the Fourth Circuit has noted, it is the ALJ’s responsibility,
not the Court’s, “to reconcile inconsistencies in the medical evidence.”
Seacrist, 538 F.2d at
Substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ’s assessment of the medical records,
Plaintiff’s credibility, and his ultimate determination that Plaintiff was not disabled.
NOW THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED:
Plaintiff’s “Motion For Judgment on the Pleadings” (document #12) is DENIED;
Defendant’s “Motion for Summary Judgment” (document #14) is GRANTED; and the
Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.
The Clerk is directed to send copies of this Memorandum and Order to counsel for
Signed: August 9, 2017
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