United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
ANTHONY D. KING, pro se Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
J. Novak United Stales Magistrate Judge.
October 31, 2012, Anthony D. King ("Plaintiff) applied
for Social Security Disability Benefits ("DIB") and
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the
Social Security Act ("Act"), alleging disability
from shoulder pain and diabetes mellitus, with an alleged
onset date of December 31, 2008. The Social Security
Administration ("SSA") denied Plaintiffs claims
both initially and upon reconsideration. Thereafter, an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denied Plaintiffs
claims in a written decision and the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiffs request for review, rendering the ALJ's
decision as the final decision of the Commissioner.
now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), arguing that the ALJ erred in
denying Plaintiff his right to cross-examination and that the
Appeals Council erred in not considering his new condition.
(Mem. in Supp. of Pl/s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s
Mem.") (ECF No. 20) at 3-4; Compl. (ECF No. 3) at 1-2.)
This matter now comes before the Court by consent of the
parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1), on the
parlies' cross-motions for summary judgment, rendering
the matter ripe for review. For the reasons that follow, the
Court DENIES Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
18), GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF
No. 27) and AFFIRMS the final decision of the Commissioner.
October 31, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and
SSI with an alleged onset date of December 31, 2008. (R. at
199-216.) The SSA denied these claims initially on February
27, 2013, and again upon reconsideration on August 22, 2013.
(R. at 66-83, 86-105.) At Plaintiffs written request, the ALJ
held a hearing on November 12.2014. (R. at 24, 133-34.) On
February 2, 2015, the ALJ issued a written opinion, denying
Plaintiffs claims and concluding that Plaintiff did not
qualify as disabled under the Act, because he could perform
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy. (R. at 10-19.) On June 29, 2016, the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiffs request for review, rendering the ALJ's
decision as the final decision of the Commissioner subject to
review by this Court. (R. at 1-3.) At Plaintiffs request, the
Court heard oral argument on the parties' cross motions
for summary judgment on February 1, 2017. (Tr. of Oral Arg.
("Tr.") (ECF No. 31).)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits, a
court "will affirm the Social Security
Administration's disability determination 'when an
ALJ has applied correct legal standards and the ALJ's
factual findings arc supported by substantial
evidence.'" Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632,
634 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Bird v. Comm 'r of Soc.
Sec. Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012)).
Substantial evidence requires more than a scintilla but less
than a preponderance, and includes the kind of relevant
evidence that a reasonable mind could accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. Hancock v. Astme, 667 F.3d
470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d
585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). To determine whether substantial
evidence exists, the court must examine the record as a
whole, but may not "undertake to re-weigh conflicting
evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute
[its] judgment for that of the [ALJ]." Hancock,
667 F.3d at 472 (quoting Johnson v. Barnhart, 434
F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005)). In considering the decision
of the Commissioner based on the record as a whole, the court
must "take into account whatever in the record fairly
detracts from its weight." Breeden v.
Weinberger, 493 F.2d 1002, 1007 (4th Cir. 1974) (quoting
Universal Camera Corp. v. N.L.R.B., 340 U.S. 474,
488 (1951)). The Commissioner's findings as to any fact,
if substantial evidence in the record supports the findings,
bind the reviewing court to affirm regardless of whether the
court disagrees with such findings. Hancock, 667
F.3d at 477. If substantial evidence in the record does not
support the ALJ's determination or if the ALJ has made an
error of law, the court must reverse the decision.
Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987).
Social Security Administration regulations set forth a
five-step process that the agency employs to determine
whether disability exists. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4);
see Mascio, 780 F.3d at 634-35 (describing the
ALJ's five-step sequential evaluation). To summarize, at
step one, the ALJ looks at the claimant's current work
activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). At step two, the
ALJ asks whether the claimant's medical impairments meet
the regulations' severity and duration requirements. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(h). Step three requires the ALJ
to determine whether the medical impairments meet or equal an
impairment listed in the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(iii). Between steps three and four, the ALJ
must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity
("RFC"), accounting for the most that the claimant
can do despite her physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.945(a). At step four, the ALJ assesses whether the
claimant can perform her past work given her RFC. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv). Finally, at step Five, the ALJ
determines whether the claimant can perform any work existing
in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).
THE ALJ'S DECISION
November 12, 2014, the ALJ held a hearing during which
Plaintiff (then-represented by counsel) and a vocational
expert ("VE") testified. (R. at 24-65.) On February
2, 2015, the ALJ issued a written opinion, finding that
Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled under the Act. (R. at
followed the five-step evaluation process established by the
Social Security Act in analyzing Plaintiffs disability claim.
(R. at 11-19). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged
onset date. (R. at 12.) At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: (1) bony
spurring along the under surface of the distal clavicle of
both shoulders and (2) diabetes mellitus. (R. at 13.) At step
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R.
assessing Plaintiffs RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could
perform light work with additional limitations. (R. at
14-17.) Specifically, Plaintiff could never reach overhead on
his right side, but he could occasionally reach overhead on
his left side. (R. at 14.) Plaintiff could not climb ladders
or scaffolds; tolerate workplace hazards including moving
machinery, unprotected heights or exposure to excessive heat;
or, perform work that required driving. (R. at 14.) He could
only occasionally crawl or balance. (R. at 14.) At step four,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform his past
relevant work as a laborer. (R. at 17-18.) At step five, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. (R. at 18-19.)
Therefore, Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled under the
fifty-six years old at the time of this Opinion, previously
worked as a laborer. (R. at 200, 255.) He applied for Social
Security Benefits, alleging disability from diabetes and
broken shoulders with an alleged onset date of December 31,
2008. (R. at 248.) Plaintiffs appeal to this Court alleges
that the ALJ erred in denying Plaintiff his right to
cross-examination and that the Appeals Council erred in not
considering his new conditions. (Pl.'s Mem. at 3-4;
Compl. at 1-2.) For the reasons set forth below, the ALJ did
not err in her decision.
Substantial Evidence Supports the ALJ's Assignment of
SubstantialWeight to the Medical ...