United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION
WILLIAM A. WEBB, Magistrate Judge.
This matter is before the Court upon the parties' Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings. DE's-24 & 26. Plaintiff has responded to Defendant's motion (DE-28) and the motions are now ripe for adjudication. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), they have been referred to the undersigned for the entry of a Memorandum and Recommendation.
For the following reasons, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (DE-24) be GRANTED, and that Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (DE-26) be DENIED. Specifically, it is RECOMMENDED that Defendant's final decision be vacated and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further proceedings.
Statement of the Case
Plaintiff filed concurrent applications for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits on June 9, 2009, alleging disability beginning May 18, 2008. Tr. 83-84, 24. His claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. at 83-86. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who determined that Plaintiff was not disabled in a decision dated July 27, 2010. Id. at 24-34. The Social Security Administration's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 7, 2012, rendering the ALJ's determination as Defendant's final decision. Id. at 2. Plaintiff filed the instant action in April, 2012. DEs-1, 6.
Standard of Review
This Court is authorized to review Defendant's denial of benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides in pertinent part:
The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive....
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Under the Social Security Act, [the Court] must uphold the factual findings of the Secretary if they are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard." Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). "Substantial evidence is... such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). "It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). "In reviewing for substantial evidence, ... [the court should not] undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute... [its] judgment for that of the Secretary." Craig, 76 F.3d at 589. Thus, this Court's review is limited to determining whether Defendant's finding that Plaintiff was not disabled is "supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied." Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).
SSA's Sequential Evaluation Process
Title II of the Social Security Act provides for the payment of insurance benefits to persons who have contributed to the program and who suffer from a physical or mental disability, as defined by the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(D). Title XVI of the Act provides for the payment of disability benefits to indigent persons under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Id. § 1382(a). Both titles define "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months...." Id. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) & 1382c(a)(3)(A) (emphasis added). More specifically, an individual is considered disabled under the Act
only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
Id. §§ 423(d)(2)(A) & 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Accordingly, the Social Security Administration has promulgated the following regulations establishing a sequential evaluation process that must be followed to determine ...