United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION
JAMES E. GATES, Magistate Judge.
In this action, plaintiff Rod Edwin Mintz ("plaintiff") challenges the final decision of defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") on the grounds that he was not disabled. The case is before the court on the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings (D.E. 20, 22). Both filed memoranda in support of their respective motions. (D.E. 21, 23). The motions were referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a memorandum and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). ( See D.E. dated 30 Mar. 2015). For the reasons set forth below, it will be recommended that the Commissioner's motion be allowed, plaintiff's motion be denied, and the final decision of the Commissioner be affirmed.
A. Case History
Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on 22 December 2010, alleging a disability onset date of 17 December 2010. Transcript of Proceedings ("Tr.") 20. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and a request for hearing was timely filed. Tr. 20. On 27 September 2012, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), at which plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. Tr. 34-58. The ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim on 10 January 2013. Tr. 20-29. Plaintiff timely requested review by the Appeals Council. Tr. 16. On 21 June 2013, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. Tr. 10-15. At that time, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. The Appeals Council subsequently extended the time for plaintiff to seek judicial review. See Tr. 1-3. Plaintiff commenced this proceeding for judicial review on 20 May 2014, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). ( See 1st In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") Mot. (D.E. 1); Order Denying 1st IFP Mot. (D.E. 4); 2d IFP Mot. (D.E. 5); 3d IFP Mot. (D.E. 6); Order Allowing 3d IFP Mot. (D.E. 7); Compl. (D.E. 8)).
B. Standards for Disability
The Social Security Act ("Act") defines 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, " the temporal criterion being known as the duration requirement. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509 (defining duration requirement); Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). "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). The Act defines a physical or mental impairment as "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." Id. § 423(d)(3).
The disability regulations under the Act ("Regulations") provide a five-step analysis that the ALJ must follow when determining whether a claimant is disabled:
(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 duration requirement in [20 C.F.R. § 404.1509], 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 in [20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1] ["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 ["RFC"] 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 [RFC] 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 cannot make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are disabled
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
The burden of proof and production rests with the claimant during the first four steps of the analysis. Pass, 65 F.3d at 1203. The burden shifts to the Commissioner at the fifth step to show that alternative work is available for the claimant in the national economy. Id.
In the case of multiple impairments, the Regulations require that the ALJ "consider the combined effect of all of [the claimant's] impairments without regard to whether any such impairment, if considered separately, would be of sufficient severity." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1523. If a medically severe combination of impairments is found, the combined impact of those impairments must be considered throughout the disability determination process. Id.
C. Findings of the ALJ
Claimant was 45 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 47 years old on the date of the hearing. See, e.g., Tr. 27 ¶ 7. He had at least a high school education and past relevant work as a pipefitter, millwright helper, and mechanic for a city. Tr. 27 ¶¶ 6, 8.
Applying the five-step analysis of 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), the ALJ found at step one that claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of alleged onset of disability. Tr. 15 ¶ 2. At step two, the ALJ found that claimant had the following medically determinable impairment that was severe within the meaning of the Regulations: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"). Tr. 22 ¶ 3. At step three, the ALJ found that claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals one of the Listings. Tr. 22 ¶ 4.
The ALJ next determined that claimant had the RFC to perform light work-that is, to lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, and to stand, walk, and sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday with normal breaks. Tr. 22 ¶ 5. He found, however, that claimant was subject to the following limitations:
The claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. He can occasionally stoop, crouch, and kneel, but must avoid moderate exposure to extreme temperatures of cold and ...