United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
J. Novak United States Magistrate Judge.
August 15, 2012, William White, Jr. ("Plaintiff)
protectively filed for Social Security Disability Benefits
("DIB") and for Supplemental Security Income
("SSI") under the Social Security Act
("Act"), alleging disability from arthritis in both
knees, diabetes, high blood pressure and gastroesophageal
reflux disease ("GERD"), with an alleged onset date
of January 1, 2012. (R. at 242-46.) 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 proceeding pro se, seeks judicial review of the
ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
arguing that the ALJ erred in assessing his residual
functional capacity ("RFC"), in concluding that he
could perform work existing in the national economy, and that
additional evidence not previously submitted to the Agency
warrants remand. (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J.
("Pl.'s Mem.") (ECF No. 13) 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 parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment, rendering the matter ripe
for review. For the reasons that follow, the Court
hereby DENIES Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
13), GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF
No. 15) and AFFIRMS the final decision of the Commissioner.
August 15, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed an application
for DIB and SSI with an alleged onset date of January 1,
2012. (R. at 207-21, 242.) The SSA denied these claims
initially on January 29, 2013, and again upon reconsideration
on November 7, 2013. (R. at 92-109, 112-32.) At Plaintiffs
written request, the ALJ held a hearing on January 23, 2015.
(R. at 25, 151.) On April 16, 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 make successful adjustments to jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy. (R. at 9-19.)
Specifically, Plaintiff could perform the duties of a
production inspector and information clerk. (R. at 18.) On
August 11, 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.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits, a
court "will affirm the [SSA]'s disability
determination 'when an ALJ has applied correct legal
standards and the ALJ's factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence."' Mascio v. Colvin,
780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Bird v.
Comm V 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.
Aslrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012); Craig v.
Chafer, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Indeed,
"the substantial evidence standard 'presupposes ...
a zone of choice within which the decision makers can go
either way, without interference by the courts. An
administrative decision is not subject to reversal merely
because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite
decision.'" Dunn v. Colvin, 607 Fed.Appx.
264, 267 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Clarke v. Bowen,
843 F.2d 271, 272-73 (8th Cir. 1988)). 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
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 634-35
(describing the ALJ's five-step sequential evaluation).
To summarize, at step one, the ALJ looks at the
claimant's work activity. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). At
step two, the ALJ asks whether the claimant's medical
impairments meet the regulations' severity and duration
requirements. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Step three requires
the ALJ to determine whether the medical impairments meet or
equal an impairment listed in the regulations. §
416.920(a)(4)(iii). Between steps three and four, the ALJ
must assess the claimant's RFC, accounting for the most
that the claimant can do despite his physical and mental
limitations. § 416.945(a). At step four, the ALJ
assesses whether the claimant can perform his past work given
his RFC. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). Finally, at step five, the
ALJ determines whether the claimant can perform any work
existing in the national economy. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).
THE ALJ'S DECISION
January 23, 2015, the ALJ held a hearing during which
Plaintiff (then-represented by counsel) and a vocational
expert ("VE") testified. (R. at 25-78.) On April
16, 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 10-11.) At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful employment since the
alleged onset date. (R. at 11.) At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease ("DJD")
of the right knee, history of open reduction internal
fixation ("ORIF") of the right tibia with hardware
replacement, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes mellitus,
and obesity. (R. at 11.) At step three, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one
of the impairments in the listings. (R. at 12.)
assessing Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
could perform light work with additional limitations. (R. at
13.) Plaintiff could only occasionally lift, carry, push and
pull twenty pounds and ten pounds frequently. (R. at 13.)
Plaintiff could stand and/or walk two hours in an eight-hour
workday and sit six or more hours in an eight-hour workday.
(R. at 13.) He could occasionally climb ramps or stairs, but
could never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. (R. at 13.)
Additionally, Plaintiff could only occasionally balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. (R. at 13.) He could not
tolerate exposure to extreme heat or cold. (R. at 13.)
Furthermore, he would need to alternate between sitting and
standing every thirty minutes while remaining on task. (R. at
13.) Plaintiff required the use of a cane. (R. at 13.)
Finally, Plaintiff could understand, remember and carry out
simple and routine work-related instructions, along with
concentrating for periods of two hours on work-related tasks
before requiring a break. (R. at 13.)
four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not perform any
past relevant work. (R. at 17.) Finally, at step five, the
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform jobs that existed
in significant numbers in the national economy. (R. at 18.)
Specifically, Plaintiff could work as a production inspector
and information clerk. (R. at 18.) Therefore, he did not
qualify as disabled. (R. at 19.)
fifty years old at the time of this Opinion, previously
worked as a warehouse supervisor and a flagman. (R. at 17,
242, 247.) He applied for Social Security benefits, alleging
disability from arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and
GERD, with an alleged onset date of January 1, 2012. (R. at
242, 246.) Plaintiffs appeal to this Court alleges that the
ALJ erred in assessing his RFC and in finding that he could
perform work that existed in the national economy. (Pl.'s
Mem. at 1.) Additionally, Plaintiff claims that updated
records that he submitted to the Court prove his disability.
(Pl.'s Mem. at 1-2.) Defendant responds that substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's decision. (Def.'s Mot.
for Summ. J. and Br. in Supp. Thereof ("Def.'s
Mem.") (ECF No. 15) at 12.) For the reasons that follow,
the ALJ did not err in his decision.
The ALJ Did Not Err in Assessing Plaintiffs RFC.
argues that the ALJ erred in assessing his RFC. (Pl.'s
Mem. at 1.) Specifically, Plaintiff argues that his knee pain
limits him more than the RFC reflects. (Pl.'s Mem. at 1.)
Defendant responds that ...