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Griffin v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division

February 24, 2014

LAUREN MARIE GRIFFIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION

KIMBERLY A. SWANK, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the court on the parties' cross motions for judgment on the pleadings [DE #17 & 20] pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Plaintiff Lauren Marie Griffin ("Claimant") filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") payments under 42 U.S.C. § 1381a. The parties have fully briefed the issues and the case is now ripe for decision. This matter was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a memorandum and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Having carefully reviewed the administrative record and the motions and memoranda submitted by the parties, it is recommended that Claimant's motion be allowed, the Commissioner's motion be denied, and this case be remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

Claimant protectively filed an application for SSI on October 10, 2008, alleging a disability onset date of September 15, 2008. (Tr. 28, 153-59.) The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and a request for hearing was timely filed. (Tr. 78-81, 84-87, 89-91.) On August 4, 2010, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Karen A. Cornick ("ALJ"), at which Claimant appeared and was represented by counsel. A vocational expert ("VE") also appeared and testified. (Tr. 43-72.) The ALJ issued a written decision on September 9, 2010, denying Claimant's request for benefits on the ground she is not disabled. (Tr. 28-37.) The Appeals Council denied Claimant's request for review on July 3, 2012. (Tr. 1-6.) Claimant then initiated this action seeking judicial review of the now final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The scope of judicial review of a final agency decision regarding disability benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 301 et seq. ("the Act"), is limited to determining whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's factual findings and whether the decision was reached through the application of the correct legal standards. See Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). "The findings of the Commissioner... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive...." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is "evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion." Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). While substantial evidence is not a "large or considerable amount of evidence, " Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988), it is "more than a mere scintilla... and somewhat less than a preponderance, " Laws, 368 F.2d at 642.

DISABILITY EVALUATION PROCESS

"Disability" is defined under the Act 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." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). "An individual shall be determined to be under a disability 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." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

Regulations promulgated pursuant to the Act provide a five-step, sequential evaluation process that the ALJ must follow in evaluating a claim for SSI benefits:

(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity, if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled....
(ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the [applicable] duration requirement... or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are not disabled....
(iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of our listings... and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are disabled....
(iv) At the fourth step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your past relevant work. If you can still do your past relevant work, we will find that you are not disabled....
(v) At the fifth and last step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your age, education, and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are not disabled. If you ...

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