United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
DAVID L. HENDRICKS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Robert S. Ballou United States Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff David L. Hendricks (“Hendricks”), proceeding pro se, challenges the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) determining that he was not disabled and therefore not eligible for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. Hendricks asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by failing to properly (1) recognize his pain from a mental and physical standpoint, (2) examine findings of fact and conclusions of law, (3) explain the credibility assessment, (4) consider evidence from Rehab Associates of Central Virginia, and (5) consider evidence from the University of Virginia (“UVA”) spine center. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner’s decision. Accordingly, I GRANT the Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 16.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
This court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner’s conclusion that Hendricks failed to demonstrate that he was disabled under the Act. Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal citations and alterations omitted). The final decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed where substantial evidence supports the decision. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).
Hendricks filed for DIB on May 13, 2011, claiming that his disability began on April 17, 2011. R. 172. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 71, 108. On May 8, 2013, ALJ Marc Mates held a hearing to consider Hendricks’ disability claim. R. 42-70. Hendricks was represented by an attorney at the hearing, which included testimony from vocational expert Arthur M. Brown. Id.; R. 149.
On June 13, 2013, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Hendricks’ claim under the familiar five-step process and denying his claim for benefits. R. 17-27. The ALJ found that Hendricks suffered from the severe impairments of right shoulder difficulty and other myalgias. R. 28. The ALJ found that these impairments, either individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 29. The ALJ further found that Hendricks retained the RFC to perform light work, except that he can occasionally lift twenty pounds and frequently lift ten pounds; stand or walk about six hours; and sit about six hours during an eight-hour workday. R. 30. Hendricks also cannot use his dominant right arm more than occasionally and relies upon his non-dominant left arm; he cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can balance and stoop occasionally. Id. He must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, wetness, humidity, and hazards, such as unprotected heights and moving machinery. Id. The ALJ determined that Hendricks could not return to his past work (R. 38), but that he could perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, such as cashier and courier. R. 39. Thus the ALJ concluded that Hendricks was not disabled. Id. On July 24, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Hendricks’ request for review (R. 1-4), and this appeal followed.
Pain and Credibility
Hendricks argues that the ALJ erred because he failed to recognize his pain from a mental and physical standpoint and because the ALJ did not properly explain his credibility assessment. At the hearing before the ALJ, Hendricks testified that he could only stand for an hour at the most (R. 48), that he had burning pain in his back (R. 49), and that he occasionally lost feeling in his left leg, which sometimes caused him to fall. Id. Hendricks also testified that the heaviest weight he was able to lift was a plate. R. 50. Hendricks’ medical records also reveal that he suffered from anxiety. See, e.g., R. 334.
The ALJ determines the facts and resolves inconsistencies between a claimant’s alleged impairments and his ability to work. See Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996). Hendricks’ subjective allegations of disabling pain are not conclusive. Rather, the ALJ must examine all of the evidence, including the objective medical record, and determine whether Hendricks met his burden of proving that he suffers from an underlying impairment which is reasonably expected to produce his claimed symptoms. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 592-93 (4th Cir. 1996). The ALJ then must evaluate the intensity and persistence of the claimed symptoms and their effect upon Hendricks’ ability to work. Id. at 594-95.
In this case, the ALJ recognized that Hendricks suffers from a severe impairment that causes him pain. R. 28. However, the issue for the ALJ is not whether Hendricks experiences pain, but whether that pain is so severe as to be disabling. The ALJ found that Hendricks’ statements regarding his pain were not entirely credible and were not supported by the relatively conservative treatment he received, the findings made by his doctors, or the reports of the reviewing physicians in the record. R. 31-38. The ALJ thoroughly reviewed Hendricks’ medical records in support of his conclusion on Hendricks’ credibility and pain.
A reviewing court gives great weight to the ALJ’s assessment of a claimant’s credibility and should not interfere with that assessment where the evidence in the record supports the ALJ’s conclusions. See Shively v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989-90 (4th Cir. 1984) (finding that because the ALJ had the opportunity to observe the demeanor and to determine the credibility of the claimant, the ALJ’s observations concerning these questions are to be given great weight.) After a review of the record as a whole, I find that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s determination that Hendricks’ testimony regarding his pain is only partially credible, and that Hendricks is capable of performing the range of light work set forth in the ALJ’s opinion.
Hendricks’ treatment records do not reflect disabling pain. On April 18, 2011, Hendricks saw Brenda S. Waller, M.D., complaining of shoulder and back pain that was 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. R. 298. Dr. Waller noted that “[m]edications are continuing to help” and she restricted Hendricks to lifting only thirty pounds at work. R. 301. On June 16, 2011, Hendricks followed up with Dr. Waller, again complaining of shoulder pain that accompanied activity. R. 302. Dr. Waller prescribed Flexeril and Oxycodone. Id. On August 15, 2011, at a follow up appointment with Dr. Waller, Hendricks reported that his shoulder pain was “managed well with medication, but would be severe without.” R. 316. At this visit, Hendricks also reported back pain, and Dr. Waller reviewed Hendricks’ prescriptions ...