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Ambrose v. Colvin

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

August 15, 2013

TOMMIE L. AMBROSE
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of Social Security

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JILLYN K. SCHULZE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Tommie L. Ambrose brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of a final administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying his claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under the Social Security Act (the Act), 41 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. Both parties' motions for summary judgment are ready for resolution and no hearing is deemed necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Ambrose's motion for summary judgment will be denied and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

1. Background.

Ambrose applied for DIB benefits on March 20, 2007, seeking a period of disability beginning on September 2, 2000. (R. 105). The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on January 21, 2011, at which Ambrose was represented by counsel and amended his onset date to April 22, 2007. (R. 133). On February 22, 2011, the ALJ found that Ambrose was not disabled within the meaning of the Act, (R.16), and the Appeals Council denied his request for review. (R.1). Thus, the ALJ's determination became the Commissioner's final decision.

2. ALJ's Decision.

The ALJ evaluated Ambrose's claims using the five-step sequential process set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, the ALJ determined that Ambrose had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from April 22, 2007, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2007, his date last insured. (R. 11). At step two, the ALJ concluded that Ambrose suffered from chronic right knee and hip pain which were severe impairments. (R. 11). At step three, the ALJ determined that Ambrose did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 12). Further, the ALJ found that Ambrose had the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work through the date last insured, but required a sit/stand option, cannot climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds, can stoop occasionally, and has moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence and pace due to pain, which limits him to unskilled tasks. Id. At step four, the ALJ found that Ambrose was unable to perform any past relevant work. (R. 14). At step five, the ALJ found, based on testimony from a vocational expert (VE), that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Ambrose could perform. As a result, the ALJ determined that Ambrose was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (R. 15-16).

3. Standard of Review.

The role of this court on review is to determine whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1202 (4th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance, of the evidence presented. Shively v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984). It is such evidence that a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion, and must be sufficient to justify a refusal to direct a verdict if the case were before a jury. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). This court cannot try the case de novo or resolve evidentiary conflicts, but rather must affirm a decision when it is supported by substantial evidence. Id.

4. Discussion.

Ambrose claims that the ALJ failed to properly compare his medical evidence to the Listing of Impairments (LOI) in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Second, Ambrose claims that the ALJ improperly weighed the medical opinion evidence, failing to give proper weight to the opinions of his treating physicians. Finally, Ambrose claims that the ALJ erroneously assessed his subjective complaints of pain.

A. Comparison to Listing of Impairments.

Ambrose claims that the ALJ erred in finding that he did not meet or medically equal the impairments in Section 1.02A of the LOI. This listing required him to demonstrate dysfunction of a joint, characterized by gross anatomical deformity and chronic joint pain and stiffness, with signs of limitation of motion, such that the dysfunction resulted in an inability to ambulate effectively. He was also required to present findings of joint space narrowing, bony destruction, or ankylosis of the affected joint. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 § 1.02A.

When there is "ample evidence in the record to support a determination that the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, " the ALJ must identify the relevant impairment or impairments in the LOI and "compare each of the listed criteria to the evidence of the claimant's symptoms." Ketcher v. Apfel, 68 F.Supp.2d 629, 645-47 (D. Md. 1999) (citing Cook v. Heckler, 783 F.2d 1168 (4th Cir. 1986)); see also McCall v. Astrue, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64402 at *4-5 (D. Md. 2011). Section 1.02, in relevant part, provides the following:

1.02 Major dysfunction of a joint(s) (due to any cause): Characterized by gross anatomical deformity (e.g., subluxation, contracture, bony or fibrous ankylosis, instability) and chronic joint pain and stiffness with signs of limitation of motion or other abnormal motion of the affected joint(s), and findings on appropriate medically acceptable ...

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