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Holmes v. Colvin

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

February 25, 2014

MARVALETTE S. HOLMES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the court on the parties' cross motions for judgment on the pleadings (DE 25, 29).[1] In this posture, the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the reasons that follow, the court grants plaintiff's motion, denies defendant's motion, and remands the case to defendant for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on April 26, 2009, alleging disability beginning March 10, 2009. This application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who determined that plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant time period in a decision dated May 19, 2011. On September 19, 2012, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ decision, and plaintiff filed this action for review of the final administrative decision.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

The court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the Commissioner's final decision denying benefits. The court must uphold the factual findings of the ALJ "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) (quotations omitted). The standard is met by "more than a mere scintilla of evidence but... less than a preponderance." Laws v. Celebrezze , 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966).

The ALJ's determination of eligibility for Social Security benefits involves a five-step sequential evaluation process, which asks whether:

(1) the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) the claimant has a medical impairment (or combination of impairments) that are severe; (3) the claimant's medical impairment meets or exceeds the severity of one of the impairments listed in [the regulations]; (4) the claimant can perform her past relevant work; and (5) the claimant can perform other specified types of work.

Johnson v. Barnhart , 434 F.3d 650, 654 n.1 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520). The burden of proof is on the claimant during the first four steps of the inquiry, but shifts to the Commissioner at the fifth step. Pass v. Chater , 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995).

In the instant matter, the ALJ performed the sequential evaluation. At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not engaged in gainful employment. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: coronary artery disease and asthma. However, at step three, the ALJ further determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments severe enough to meet or medically equal one of the impairments in the regulations. Prior to proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work, subject to the following limitations: "[Plaintiff] is able to lift and carry up to 10 pounds occasionally and lesser amounts frequently, sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour day, and stand and walk occasionally except that the [plaintiff] can only occasionally crouch, crawl, stoop, balance, and kneel. [Plaintiff] can never climb. She must avoid fumes and noxious odors." (Tr. 153). The ALJ determined that plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work, but that plaintiff could adjust to the demands of other employment opportunities existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not under a disability during the relevant time period.

B. Analysis

Plaintiff contends that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence for two reasons. First, plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly evaluated the medical opinion of her treating physician, Dr. Benjamin Akiwumi. Second, plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to give proper consideration ...


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