United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston
L. Tinsley United States Magistrate Judge.
an action seeking review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying the Plaintiff's
applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and
supplemental security income (SSI) under the Social Security
Act. The parties consented to the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge ordering the entry of final judgement.
Presently pending before this Court are Plaintiff's Brief
in Support of Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 12) and
Defendant's Brief in Support of Defendant's Decision
(ECF No. 13).
November 18, 2011, Regina Gail Gibson (Claimant) filed an
application for DIB and SSI alleging disability as of January
27, 2012. The Commissioner of Social Security
(Defendant) denied Claimant's applications initially on
February 17, 2012 and on reconsideration June 11, 2012.
Claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) on July 10, 2012. On December 10, 2013, an ALJ
presided over the hearing in Charleston, West Virginia. On
March 7, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Claimant not
disabled under the Act. On March 26, 2014, Plaintiff timely
filed a request for review by the Appeals Council. On June
16, 2015, the Appeals Council issued a final decision denying
Plaintiff's request for review. Thereafter, Claimant
filed the instant civil action.
was born on March 3, 1963. On the date of the hearing she was
50 years old. She received her GED and has a “two-year
equivalent, an associate's degree, in data processing
with emphasis on accounting” (Tr. at 62).
Claimant's 21 year old son with alleged intellectual
impairment lives with Claimant (Tr. at 78-79). She has a
daughter that lives in Florida (Tr. at 81). Claimant has a
driver's license (Tr. at 80).
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5), a claimant for disability has the
burden of proving a disability. See Blalock v.
Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 774 (4th Cir. 1972). A
disability is defined as the "inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable impairment which can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months . . . ." 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
Social Security Regulations establish a "sequential
evaluation" for the adjudication of disability claims.
20 C.F.R. ' 404.1520 (2015). If an individual is found
"not disabled" at any step, further inquiry is
unnecessary. Id. ' 404.1520(a). The first
inquiry under the sequence is whether a claimant is currently
engaged in substantial gainful employment. Id. '
404.1520(b). If the claimant is not, the second inquiry is
whether claimant suffers from a severe impairment.
Id. ' 404.1520(c). If a severe impairment is
present, the third inquiry is whether such impairment meets
or equals any of the impairments listed in Appendix 1 to
Subpart P of the Administrative Regulations No. 4.
Id. ' 404.1520(d). If it does, the claimant is
found disabled and awarded benefits. Id. If it does
not, the fourth inquiry is whether the claimant's
impairments prevent the performance of past relevant work.
Id. ' 404.1520(e). By satisfying inquiry four,
the claimant establishes a prima facie case of
disability. Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264 (4th
Cir. 1981). The burden then shifts to the Commissioner,
McLain v. Schweiker, 715 F.2d 866, 868-69 (4th Cir.
1983), and leads to the fifth and final inquiry: whether the
claimant is able to perform other forms of substantial
gainful activity, considering claimant's remaining
physical and mental capacities and claimant's age,
education and prior work experience. 20 C.F.R. '
404.1520(f) (2015). The Commissioner must show two things:
(1) that the claimant, considering claimant's age,
education, work experience, skills and physical shortcomings,
has the capacity to perform an alternative job, and (2) that
this specific job exists in the national economy.
McLamore v. Weinberger, 538 F.2d 572, 574 (4th Cir.
case, the ALJ determined that Claimant has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since January 27, 2012, the
amended alleged onset date (Tr. at 24). The ALJ found that
Claimant has the severe impairments of osteoarthritis, status
post reconstructive surgery left ankle, tenosynovitis,
plantar fasciitis, heel spur syndrome with bursitis and
gastrocnemius equinus contracture, status-post right foot
lipoma, degenerative disc disease, lumbargo, fibromyalgia,
carpal tunnel syndrome and impingement syndrome right
shoulder (Tr. at 24-25). Under the second step, the ALJ found
that Claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments (Tr. at 28). The ALJ found that
Claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
light work except she can perform occasional balancing,
stooping, kneeling, crouching, climbing ramp and stair,
ladders, ropes and scaffolding. She would be limited to
frequent handling, fingering, feeling with the bilateral
upper extremities and frequent overhead reaching with the
right upper extremity, dominant side. (Id.) The ALJ
held that Claimant is capable of performing past relevant
work as a daycare center worker, cashier/concession stand and
as a children's attendant (Tr. at 36). The ALJ held that
“there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy that the claimant can also
perform” (Tr. at 37). Upon this basis, the ALJ denied
Claimant's applications for DIB and SSI.
sole issue before this court is whether the final decision of
the Commissioner denying the claim is supported by
substantial evidence. In Blalock v. Richardson,
substantial evidence was defined as:
Evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to
support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance. If there is evidence to justify a refusal to
direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is
Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 776 (4th Cir.
1972) (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642
(4th Cir. 1966)). Additionally, the Commissioner, not the
court, is charged with resolving conflicts in the evidence.
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
1990). Nevertheless, the courts Amust not abdicate their
traditional functions; they cannot escape their duty to
scrutinize the record as a whole to determine whether the
conclusions reached are rational.@ Oppenheim v.
Finch, 495 F.2d 396, 397 (4th Cir. 1974).
careful review of the record reveals the decision of the
Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence.
Court has reviewed all evidence of record, including the
medical evidence of record, and will discuss it further below
as it relates to Claimant's arguments.
Challenges to the Commissioner's Decision
asserts that the ALJ did not adequately address and analyze
the combined effect of Claimant's impairments and failed
to consider all of Claimant's limitations in the RFC (ECF
No. 12). Claimant argues that the ALJ did not adequately
address Claimant's obesity and diabetes mellitus.
Claimant avers that the ALJ failed to properly assess
Claimant's credibility and to reference or discuss the
opinion of Dr. Lana Hofeldt. (Id.) In response,
Defendant asserts that the ALJ properly considered the
combined effects of Claimant's impairments (ECF No. 13).
Defendant avers that the ALJ properly assessed Claimant's
credibility and correctly addressed the emergency room record
for Claimant's temporary exacerbation of back pain.
step three of the ALJ's sequential analysis, but before
deciding whether a claimant can perform past relevant work at
step four, the ALJ must determine the claimant's RFC. An
individual's RFC is the capacity an individual possesses
despite the limitations caused by physical or mental
impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1); see
also S.S.R. 96-8p. The RFC is based on all relevant
medical and other evidence in the record and may include a
claimant's own description of limitations arising from
alleged symptoms. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3); see
also S.S.R. 96-8p. "[T]he residual functional
capacity 'assessment must first identify the
individual's functional limitations or restrictions and
assess his or her work-related abilities on a
function-by-function basis, including the functions'
listed in the regulations." Mascio v.
Colvin, 780 F.3d at 636 (quoting S.S.R. 96-8p).
Where a claimant has numerous impairments, including
non-severe impairments, the ALJ must consider their
cumulative effect in making a disability determination. 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(B); see ...