United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
THOMAS E. HUNTER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
S. BALLOU, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Thomas E. Hunter filed this action challenging the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) finding him not disabled and
therefore ineligible for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) under the Social Security Act
(“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f.
Hunter alleges that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred by failing to properly: (1)
determine his RFC and conduct a function by function
analysis; and (2) evaluate his credibility. I conclude that
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision
in all respects. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND DENYING
Hunter's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 14) and
GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment.
(Dkt. No. 16).
court limits its review to a determination of whether
substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's
conclusion that Hunter 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.
filed for SSI on August 23, 2012, claiming his disability
began on April 30, 2008, due to bulging and herniated disks,
emphysema, panic and anxiety attacks, numbness in his
extremities, high blood pressure, and
depression. R. 21, 63, 168. The state agency denied
Hunter's application at the initial and reconsideration
levels of administrative review. R. 63-74, 76-88. On October
8, 2015, ALJ William Barto held a hearing to consider
Hunter's claims for SSI. R. 38-62. Hunter was represented
by counsel at the hearing, which included testimony from
vocational expert Tony Melanson.
November 3, 2015, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing
Hunter's claims under the familiar five-step
process and denying his claim for benefits. R.
21-31. The ALJ found that Hunter suffered from the severe
impairments of obesity, degenerative disc disease, carpal
tunnel syndrome, and open wound of the lower
limb. R. 23. The ALJ determined that these
impairments, either individually or in combination, did not
meet or equal a listed impairment. R. 25. In particular, the
ALJ considered Listings 1.00(Q)(musculoskeletal system),
1.04(disorders of the spine), and 1.08(soft tissue injury),
and noted that no treating or examining physicians recorded
findings of the severity required to meet or equal a listed
impairment. Id. The ALJ concluded that Hunter
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform a limited range of light work. R. 25.
Specifically, the ALJ found that Hunter can only occasionally
climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, be exposed to
vibration and workplace hazards, and operate foot controls
with his left lower extremity. Id. Further, Hunter
must be able to change to a sitting position at will for up
to five minutes as needed, to alleviate pain. Id.
The ALJ determined that Hunter was unable to perform his past
relevant work as a drywall mechanic, but that he could
perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy, such as cashier, office helper, and machine
feeder. R. 29-30. Hunter appealed the ALJs' decision and
the Appeals Council denied his request for review on January
23, 2017. R. 1-4.
Relevant Medical History
visited the emergency room on multiple occasions in 2012
complaining of hand numbness and pain and was diagnosed with
carpal tunnel syndrome. R. 326, 328, 571, 576, 624- 26.
Hunter also complained of chronic low back pain. R. 572. A CT
scan of his cervical spine in August 2012 was
“essentially negative” with “some minimal
degenerative changes.” R. 527. Similarly, lumbar spine
x-rays in May 2015 showed degenerative changes, not
significantly changed compared to previous exams in 2010. R.
this time frame Hunter visited the emergency room as a result
of multiple accidents, including shooting himself in the
foot. In October 2012, Hunter presented at the
emergency room with a gunshot wound to his left foot, which
he indicated occurred accidentally while cleaning his
shotgun. R. 665. Hunter had immediate surgery on his left
foot, including partial amputations of his third and fourth
toes and an open reduction internal fixation of his second
toe. R. 674, 678, 682. Following the surgery, Hunter
continued to complain of pain in his left toes, including
phantom pain in his absent toes. R. 801, 817. On November 28,
2012, Hunter began physical therapy on his left foot, where
he complained of swelling, pain, and trouble balancing. R.
904. In December 2012, Hunter underwent a skin graft on his
left foot to speed up the healing process; however, the skin
graft failed due to infection. R. 840, 915. Hunter continued
with physical therapy into 2013, where he continued to
complain of foot pain. R. 915, 920. Hunter was also treated
at Carilion Clinic Pain Management Center, where he was
prescribed Oxycodone, which helped to control his pain. R.
930, 944, 1146, 1151. However, in June 2013, his pain
management doctor refused to continue his Oxycodone, as
during a recent incarceration and temporary detention order,
Hunter reportedly “stated his wife had been taking his
medications.” R. 1157. On September 28, 2013, Hunter was
admitted to the open ward at Roanoke Memorial Hospital for
suicidal thoughts and a history of depression and anxiety; he
participated in group therapy and was discharged on October
8, 2013. R. 1333-37. On discharge, his diagnoses were major
depressive disorder, severe, without psychotic symptoms, and
substance use disorder, along with the issues of marital
problems, homelessness, unemployment, and chronic pain. R.
agency doctors James Wickham, M.D. and Thomas Phillips, M.D.
performed a records review and both found that Hunter was
capable of performing a limited range of light
work. R. 72, 86.
Findings and Function by Function Analysis
asserts that the ALJ's RFC findings are not supported by
substantial evidence, arguing that the medical evidence
establishes impairments that impose more restrictions than
those found by the ALJ. Hunter argues that the ALJ failed to
make any “specific findings regarding [his] inability
to maintain a static work posture, his manipulative
limitations, his need to [elevate his left leg] and lie down
and rest during the day, or the frequency he would be absent
from work . . . .” Pl.'s Br. at 27, Dkt. No. 15.
According to Hunter, these ...