United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
BRIAN K. SHIPLETT, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
C. Hoppe United States Magistrate Judge.
Brian K. Shiplett asks this Court to review the Commissioner
of Social Security's ("Commissioner") final
decision denying his applications for disability insurance
benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income
("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34, 1381-1383f. On
appeal, Shiplett argues that the Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") erred in weighing his credibility and
evaluating the effects of his impairments on his ability to
work. The case is before me by the parties' consent under
28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). ECF No. 6. Having considered the
administrative record, the parties' briefs and oral
arguments, and the applicable law, I find that substantial
evidence supports the Commissioner's final decision.
Standard of Review
Social Security Act authorizes this Court to review the
Commissioner's final decision that a person is not
entitled to disability benefits. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 561
(4th Cir. 2006). The Court's role, however, is limited-it
may not "reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute [its] judgment" for that
of agency officials. Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d
470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012). Instead, the Court asks only
whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and
whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's factual
findings. Meyer v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 700, 704 (4th
evidence" means "such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971). It is "more than a mere scintilla"
of evidence, id., but not necessarily "a large
or considerable amount of evidence, " Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988). Substantial
evidence review takes into account the entire record, and not
just the evidence cited by the ALJ. See Gordon v.
Schweiker, 725 F.2d 231, 236 (4th Cir. 1984);
Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 487-89
(1951). Ultimately, this Court must affirm the ALJ's
factual findings if "conflicting evidence allows
reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is
disabled." Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650,
653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (quoting Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal
quotation marks omitted)). However, "[a] factual finding
by the ALJ is not binding if it was reached by means of an
improper standard or misapplication of the law."
Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987).
person is "disabled" if he or she 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 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§
423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1505(a), 416.905(a). Social Security ALJs follow a
five-step process to determine whether an applicant is
disabled. The ALJ asks, in sequence, whether the applicant:
(1) is working; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an
impairment that meets or equals an impairment listed in the
Act's regulations; (4) can return to his or her past
relevant work based on his or her residual functional
capacity; and, if not (5) whether he or she can perform other
work. See Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-62
(1983); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).
The applicant bears the burden of proof at steps one through
four. Hancock, 667 F.3d at 472. At step five, the
burden shifts to the agency to prove that the applicant is
not disabled. See id.
filed for DIB and SSI on January 9, 2012. See
Administrative Record ("R.") 86, ECF No. 10. He was
48 years old at the time he filed his claim, R. 86, and had
worked as a construction laborer, R. 61. Shiplett alleged
that he had been disabled since October 15, 2010, because of
problems with his left ankle, left shoulder, right shoulder,
and feet; high blood pressure; and high cholesterol. R. 86,
185, 189. Disability Determination Services
("DDS"), the state agency, denied his claim
initially and on reconsideration. R. 104, 111. Shiplett
appeared with counsel before ALJ R. Neely Owen for an
administrative hearing on January 30, 2014. R. 55-85.
Shiplett testified about his medical conditions and the
limitations those conditions caused in his daily life
activities. R. 64-72. A vocational expert ("VE")
also testified about Shiplett's work experience and his
ability to return to his past work or to perform other
available work. R. 73-84.
denied Shiplett's applications in a written decision
dated February 27, 2014. R. 38-50. He found that Shiplett had
severe impairments of osteoarthrosis and allied disorder and
dysfunction-major joints. R. 43. These impairments, however,
did not meet or equal a listing. R. 43-44. The ALJ next
determined that Shiplett had the residual functional capacity
("RFC") to perform "light
work." R. 44. He limited Shiplett to walking or
standing for four hours and sitting for six hours in an
eight-hour workday, imposed a number of postural limitations,
restricted Shiplett to frequently reaching overhead with his
right arm, and precluded him from concentrated exposure to
workplace hazards such as dangerous machinery or heights.
Id. Relying on the VE's testimony, the ALJ
concluded that Shiplett could not perform any of his past
relevant work, but could perform other available jobs,
including convenience store clerk, gate guard, and mail
routing clerk. R. 49. The Appeals Council declined to review
that decision, R. 1-4, and this appeal followed.
argues that the ALJ erred in not fully crediting his
descriptions of the limiting effects of his symptoms. PI. Br.
5-9, ECF No. 2. Because I find that substantial evidence in
the record supports the ALJ's determinations, I must
disagree with Shiplett's arguments.
primarily alleges disability caused by chronic pain in his
right shoulder, as well as ankle pain and muscle spasms
resulting from past injuries and surgeries. R. 13-14, 62. He
injured his ankle in 2001 after falling off a roof, severely
fracturing his distal tibia and fibula, and he underwent four
different surgeries. R. 278. Pain in his right shoulder was
first noted prior to surgery for subacromial decompression,
debridement of calcific tendinitis, and partial thickness
rotator cuff tear in 2004. R. 343. In May 2008, Shiplett
suffered an acromioclavicular ("AC") joint
separation to his left shoulder in a motorcycle accident. R.
344. Kenneth A. Boatright, M.D., discussed treatment options,
including reconstructive surgery, with Shiplett. Id.
Shiplett opted to pursue conservative measures of using a
sling and taking medications while he continued to work
construction at reduced lifting levels. Id. His
shoulder pain persisted, and in July 2008, Dr. Boatright
advised Shiplett to avoid work to allow his shoulder to heal.
R. 344-45. Later that month Jack F. Otteni, M.D., discussed
AC joint reconstructive surgery with Shiplett and scheduled
him for surgery. R. 346. In August, Shiplett took time off
from work. R. 347. Dr. Otteni examined his left shoulder and
found that he had full range of motion, intact strength, and
normal neurologic and vascular signs, although his AC joint
had significant deformity. Id. Dr. Otteni encouraged
Shiplett to remain off work for two weeks, and he opined that
he likely would not require surgery in the future.
March 17, 2010, Shiplett reported pain in his right shoulder
after experiencing syncope and falling on it. R. 299. An
X-ray of his right shoulder revealed no fracture,
dislocation, or other acute bony or soft tissue abnormality.
R. 317. An X-ray of his left ankle on March 31, 2010, ...