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Wright v. Colvin

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

March 2, 2017

EDWARD D. WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DENNIS L. HOWELL, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff brought 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 disability benefits. This case is now before the Court on the parties' Motions for Summary Judgment. Upon a review of the record, the parties' briefs, and the relevant legal authority, the Court DENIES the Motion for Summary Judgment [# 17] and GRANTS the Motion for Summary Judgement [# 14].

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income on January 28, 2013. (Transcript of Administrative Record (“T.”) 131.) The application had a protective filing date of November 20, 2012. (T. 12, 129.) Plaintiff alleged an onset date of November 1, 2011. (T. 131.) At the hearing before the ALJ, counsel amended the alleged onset date to November 20, 2012. (T. 12.) The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claims. (T. 75-83.) Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the decision, which was also denied. (T. 84-95.) A disability hearing was then held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (T. 25-43.) The ALJ then issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled from November 20, 2012. (T. 20-21.) Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision. (T. 8.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T. 1-7.) 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 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 his 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 his past relevant work; (5) whether the claimant is able to perform any other work considering his 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.

         At the first two steps, the burden is on the claimant to make the requisite showing. Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 179 (4th Cir. 2016). If a claimant fails to satisfy his or her burden at either of these first two steps, the ALJ will determine that the claimant is not disabled and the process comes to an end. Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015). The burden remains on the claimant at step three to demonstrate that the claimant's impairments satisfy a listed impairment and, thereby, establish disability. Monroe, 826 F.3d at 179.

         If the claimant fails to satisfy his or her burden at step three, however, then the ALJ must still determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635. After determining the claimant's RFC, the ALJ proceeds to step four in order to determine whether claimant can perform his or her past relevant work. Id. The burden is on the claimant to demonstrate that he or she is unable to perform past work. Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. If the ALJ determines that a claimant is not cable of performing past work, then the ALJ proceeds to step five. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635.

         At step five, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant can perform other work. Id. The burden rest with the Commissioner at step five to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the claimant is capable of performing other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, taking into account the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. Id.; Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. Typically, the Commissioner satisfies her burden at step five through the use of the testimony of a vocational expert, who offers testimony in response to a hypothetical from the ALJ that incorporates the claimant's limitations. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635; Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. If the Commissioner satisfies her burden at step five, then the ALJ will find that a claimant is not disabled and deny the application for disability benefits. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635; Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         In his July 22, 2014, decision the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. (T. 21.) The ALJ made the following specific findings:

(1) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 20, 2012, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
(2) The claimant has the following severe impairments: a schizophrenic disorder, anxiety-related disorders, a conduct disorder and a history of substance addition disorders (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
(3) The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, ...

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