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Smith v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

March 3, 2014

DAN SMITH, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


DENNIS L. HOWELL, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's claim for social security disability insurance benefits. This case came before the Court on the administrative record and the parties' Motions for Summary Judgment [# 9 & # 17]. The Court RECOMMENDS that the District Court GRANT the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [# 17], DENY Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [# 9], and AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on October 3, 2008. (Transcript of Administrative Record ("T.") 143.) Plaintiff alleged an onset date of October 26, 2007. (T. 143.) The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claim. (T. 82-85.) Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the decision, which was also denied. (T. 89-90.) A disability hearing was then held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (T. 42-64.) The ALJ then issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision. (T. 23-35.) Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council (T. 1-3). Plaintiff then brought this action seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.

II. Standard for Determining Disability

An individual is disabled for purposes of receiving disability payments if he or she is unable 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); see also Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). The Commissioner undertakes a five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled. Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005). Under this inquiry, the Commissioner must consider in sequence: (1) whether a claimant is gainfully employed; (2) whether a claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work-related functions; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or exceeds the listing of impairments contained in Appendix I of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, subpart P; (4) whether the claimant can perform her past relevant work; (5) whether the claimant is able to perform any other work considering her age, education, and residual functional capacity. Mastro, 270 F.3d at 177; Johnson, 434 F.3d at 654 n.1; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. If at any stage of the inquiry, the Commissioner determines that the claimant is or is not disabled, the inquiry is halted. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) and 416.920(a).

III. The ALJ's Decision

In his February 15, 2011, decision the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. (T. 34.) The ALJ made the following specific findings:

(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2013.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 26, 2007, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. )
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments: cervical degenerative disc disease, chronic neck and left shoulder pain, depression and anxiety, and seizure-like episodes (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
(4) The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform simple, repetitive routine light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) that allows frequent stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling; occasional climbing of stairs and ramps, balancing, and concentrated exposure to hazards; that involves no climbing of ropes/ladders/scaffolds or overhead reaching with the left upper extremity; and that involves working with things rather than people.
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
(7) The claimant was born on August 31, 1974 and was 33 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1563).
(8) The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
(9) Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled, " whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills. (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(10) Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the nation economy that the ...

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