United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
WILLIAM H. WADE, JR., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION
KIMBERLY A. SWANK United States Magistrate Judge
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. William H. Wade, Jr.
(“Plaintiff”) filed this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the denial of
his application for a period of disability, Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental
Social 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 #16]
be granted, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings [DE #23] be denied, and the Commissioner's
decision be remanded for further proceedings.
OF THE CASE
protectively filed applications for a period of disability
and DIB on March 6, 2012, and for SSI on March 14, 2012,
alleging disability beginning April 30, 2010. (R. 14,
196-204.) The applications were denied initially and upon
reconsideration, and a request for hearing was filed. (R.
88-89, 124-25, 153-57.) On April 24, 2014, a hearing was held
before Administrative Law Judge Edward Seery
(“ALJ”), who issued an unfavorable ruling on May
30, 2014. (R. 14, 24.) On July 22, 2015, the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 3-5.)
Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the final
administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
I. Standard of Review
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).
making a disability determination, the Commissioner uses 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.
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 April 30,
2010, and that he meets the insured status requirements
through December 31, 2016. (R. 16.) Next, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
“post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obesity,
coronary artery disease with stenting, degenerative disc
disease, forearm fracture with bilateral cubital tunnel
syndrome and headaches.” (Id.) The ALJ did not
identify any non-severe impairments. (Id.) However,
at step three, the ALJ concluded that 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.
to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and found
that Plaintiff had
the residual functional capacity to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he must
avoid overhead reaching; he could frequently but not
continuously handle and finger; he must change position from
sitting to standing every 40 minutes; he is limited to
performing simple, routine and repetitive type tasks; and he
could have occasional interaction with co-workers,
supervisors and the public.
(R. 18.) In making this assessment, the ALJ found
Plaintiff's statements about the severity of his
symptoms, and statements made by his sister in a Third Party
Function Report, not fully credible. (R. 19.) At step four,
the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could not perform any past
relevant work. (R. 22.) At step five, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff could make “a successful adjustment to other
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy” and listed electronics worker, remnant sorter,
and agricultural produce sorter as potential occupations. (R.