United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION
KIMBERLY A. SWANK, Magistrate Judge.
This matter is before the court on the parties= cross motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Eddie Bumpass ("Plaintiff") filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial review of the denial of his application for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). The time for filing responsive briefs has expired, and the pending motions are ripe for adjudication. Having carefully reviewed the administrative record and the motions and memoranda submitted by the parties, the undersigned recommends that Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE-21] be denied, and that Defendant=s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE-26] be granted.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for a period of disability and DIB on February 20, 2011 (Tr. 46) and SSI on March 15, 2011 (Tr. 47), alleging disability beginning October 12, 2010 (Tr. 169, 173). The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and a request for hearing was filed. (Tr. 46-47, 84-85.) On July 2, 2012, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Katherine D. Wisz ("ALJ"), who issued an unfavorable ruling on August 24, 2012. (Tr. 11, 18.) On November 7, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3.) Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
I. Standard of Review
The scope of judicial review of a final agency decision denying disability benefits 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). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; [i]t consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (alteration in original). "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 [Commissioner]." Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Craig, 76 F.3d at 589) (internal quotation marks omitted) (first and second alterations in original). Rather, in conducting the "substantial evidence" inquiry, the court determines whether the Commissioner has considered all relevant evidence and sufficiently explained the weight accorded to the evidence. Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v. Akers, 131 F.3d 438, 439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).
II. Disability Determination
In making a disability determination, the Commissioner utilizes a five-step evaluation process. The Commissioner asks, sequentially, whether the claimant: (1) is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1; (4) can perform the requirements of past work; and, if not, (5) based on the claimant's age, work experience, and residual functional capacity can adjust to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Albright v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). The burden of proof and production during the first four steps of the inquiry rests on the claimant. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). At the fifth step, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that other work exists in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Id.
III. ALJ's Findings
Applying the five-step, sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found Plaintiff "not disabled" as defined in the Social Security Act. At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since October 12, 2010. (Tr. 13.) Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairment: osteoarthritis in the form of degenerative disc disease (minimal) in cervical and lumbar spine. ( Id. ) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff suffered from the following non-severe impairment: diabetes mellitus. ( Id. ) However, at step three, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff's impairments were not severe enough, either individually or in combination, to meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 13-14.)
Prior to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), and found that Plaintiff had the ability to "perform the full range of medium work, or work which requires maximum lifting of 50 pounds, frequent lifting of up to 25 pounds, and sitting, standing or walking approximately 6 hours in an 8 hour day." (Tr. 14.) In making this assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff=s statements about the severity of his symptoms not fully credible. (Tr. 15.) At step four, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was capable of performing the requirements of his past relevant work "as a machine operator, aluminum siding installer, and shop supervisor" as generally performed. (Tr. 17-18.)
IV. Plaintiff's Contentions
Plaintiff challenges the Commissioner's final decision denying benefits on three grounds. Plaintiff first contends that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff is capable of performing medium work. Second, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in Plaintiff's credibility determination. Lastly, Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred by not giving controlling weight to a ...