Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Carter v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

December 14, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff has filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiffs claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits under the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423, and 42 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq., respectively. Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). This court's review is limited to a determination as to whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision. Because the plaintiff has abandoned his claim for disability insurance benefits, the only issue presently before the court is whether substantial evidence supports the Law Judge's conclusion that the plaintiff failed to meet the requirements for entitlement to supplemental security income benefits.[1] If such substantial evidence exists, the final decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed. Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966). Stated briefly, substantial evidence has been defined as such relevant evidence, considering the record as a whole, as might be found adequate to support a conclusion by a reasonable mind. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

         The plaintiff, Terry Glenn Carter, was born on May 23, 1970, and eventually completed his high school education. Mr. Carter has worked as a janitor and a fast food worker. He last worked on a regular and sustained basis in 2009. On May 30, 2013, Mr. Carter filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. Mr. Carter alleged disability based on lower back pain; injury to his hands, knees, and shoulders; diabetes; headaches; a burning sensation in his right arm; and pain in his feet and ankles. He now s maintains that he has remained disabled to the present time. Mr. Carter's applications were denied upon initial consideration and reconsideration. Mr. Carter then requested and received a de novo hearing and review before an Administrative Law Judge.

         In an opinion dated February 11, 2016, the Law Judge applied the five-step sequential process for evaluating disability claims.[2] 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. The Law Judge found that Mr. Carter has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 1, 2009, and that he suffers from severe impairments including degenerative disc disease, cervical radiculopathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, and obesity. The Law Judge then assessed Mr. Carter's residual functional capacity as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that the claimant can only occasionally perform handling and fingering bilaterally.

(Tr. 40). Given this residual functional capacity, and after considering Mr. Carter's age, education, and prior work experience, as well as the testimony of a vocational expert, the Law Judge determined that Mr. Carter could not perform any past relevant work, but retained sufficient functional capacity to perform certain light work roles existing in significant number in the national economy. (Tr. 44). Accordingly, the Law Judge concluded that Mr. Carter has not been disabled since 2009, is not presently disabled, and is not entitled to either disability insurance benefits or supplemental security income benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 4040.1520(f) and 416.920(f). The Law Judge's opinion was adopted as the final decision of the Commissioner by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. Having exhausted all administrative remedies, Mr. Carter has now appealed to this court.

         While trie plaintiff may be disabled for certain forms of employment, the crucial factual determination is whether the plaintiff is disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2) and 1382c(a). There are four elements of proof which must be considered in making such an analysis. These elements are summarized as follows: (1) objective medical facts and clinical findings; (2) the opinions and conclusions of treating physicians; (3) subjective evidence of physical manifestations of impairments, as described through a claimant's testimony; and (4) the claimant's education, vocational history, residual skills, and age. Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157, 1159-60 (4th Cir. 1971); Underwood v. Ribicoff, 298 F.2d 850, 851 (4th Cir. 1962).

         After a review of the record in this case, the court is constrained to conclude that the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence. The Law Judge's opinion reflects a thorough evaluation of Mr. Carter's medical records, the opinions of physicians who examined Mr. Carter, Mr. Carter's testimony about impairments, and Mr. Carter's characteristics.

         The medical record reveals that Mr. Carter has received treatment from the Pulaski Free Clinic since 2009. (Tr. 305). The Law Judge tracked Mr. Carter's care at the Free Clinic, noting that Mr. Carter rarely sought care and, when he did, did not show any signs of significant abnormalities. Mr. Carter first complained of hand and shoulder pain in December 2011, but the medical records from that visit do not indicate any significant abnormalities. (Tr. 42, 304). Indeed, at a July 2012 visit, Mr. Carter exhibited full muscle strength, intact cranial nerves, and normal reflexes. (Tr. 42, 303). The Free Clinic first recorded objective evidence of an injury in January 2014 when an X-ray showed mild diffuse degenerative arthritic changes in Mr. Carter's back that supported a diagnosis of degenerative disc disease. (Tr. 42, 355). However, a physical examination of Mr. Carter at that time revealed that the mild objective abnormality did not have any significant effect on Mr. Carter's abilities. (Tr. 43-43, 332).

         In denying Mr. Carter's claim, the Law Judge also relied on a consultative physical evaluation performed by neurologist Dr. Rollin J. Hawley in October 2015. (Tr. 43, 356-57). Based on his review of Mr. Carter's medical history, as well as his own clinical findings from nerve conduction studies and an electromyography ("EMG") of Mr. Carter's upper extremities, Dr. Hawley diagnosed Mr. Carter with carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic cervical radiculopathy that resulted in numbness to Mr. Carter's left middle through little fingers, and diabetes mellitus. (Tr. 357). After observing that Mr. Carter was morbidly obese, Dr. Hawley advised Mr. Carter to lose weight and maintain control of his diabetes. (Tr. 356-57). Dr. Hawley recommended that Mr. Carter wear wrist splints at night or when tempted to flex his wrists, and noted that surgery was a possible treatment if less invasive treatments failed to relieve the pain. (Tr. 357). Finally, Dr. Hawley recommended conservative care of Mr. Carter's cervical spine. (Tr. 357).

         The Law Judge also gave great weight to the opinion of Mr. Carter's treating physician, Dr. Carl E. Hanks, that Mr. Carter could only occasionally lift 20 pounds, handle, or finger. (Tr. 43). On the other hand, the Law Judge gave less weight to other findings included on a physical assessment form completed by Dr. Hanks, based on the determination that the evaluation of plaintiffs stamina and capacity for sitting and standing were more subjective, and not fully supported by clinical assessments. (Tr. 43).

         The Law Judge similarly gave limited weight to the opinion of a state agency medical consultant that Mr. Carter had no severe impairments and the opinion of another state agency medical consultant that Mr. Carter could perform medium work. (Tr. 43-44). The Law Judge explained that giving limited weight to those opinions favored Mr. Carter.

         However, the Law Judge also did not fully credit the subjective complaints of Mr. Carter. Although Mr. Carter testified that he experienced pain in his hands, neck, back, and feet, the record does not contain any objective evidence of injury to Mr. Carter's lower extremities. Mr. Carter also testified that he stopped working in 2009 because a supervisor fired him following a disagreement, that he would have continued to work had he not been fired, and that he searched for jobs until he filed for disability benefits. (Tr. 66-67). The Law Judge viewed Mr. Carter's credibility as limited because Mr. Carter initially sought disability benefits as of the date that he stopped working despite testifying that he stopped working because he was fired.

         Finally, the Law Judge considered Mr. Carter's characteristics and the opinion of the vocational expert. The Law Judge asked the vocational expert about the availability of jobs for a hypothetical individual of Mr. Carter's age and experience who could lift and carry no more than 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently and only occasionally handle and finger. (Tr. 57). The vocational expert testified that such an individual could not perform Mr. Carter's past ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.