United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
cause comes before the Court on plaintiffs motion for
judgment on the pleadings. Defendant did not file a motion
for judgment on the pleadings. A hearing was held on these
matters before the undersigned on February 24, 2017, in
Raleigh, North Carolina. For the reasons discussed below, the
decision of the Commissioner is reversed.
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3) for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner denying his claim for disability and disability
insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental
security income ("SSI") pursuant to Titles II and
XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff protectively filed
his applications on July 11, 2012, alleging disability
beginning June 6, 2012. After initial denials, a hearing was
held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who issued an
unfavorable ruling. The decision of the ALJ became the final
decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied
plaintiffs request for review. Plaintiff then timely sought
review of the Commissioner's decision in this Court.
Defendant filed a motion to remand to the Commissioner which
was denied by this Court.
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), and
1383(c)(3), this Court's review of the Commissioner's
decision is limited to determining whether the decision, as a
whole, is supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner employed the correct legal standard.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650,
653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (internal quotation and
individual is considered disabled if he 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
[twelve] months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The
Act further provides that 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 line of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
issued by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be followed in a disability case. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four,
but the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
If a decision regarding disability can be made at any step of
the process, however, the inquiry ceases. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).
one, if the Social Security Administration determines that
the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. If not, then step two asks
whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination
of impairments. If the claimant has a severe impairment, it
is compared at step three to those in the Listing of
Impairments ("Listing") in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1. If the claimant's impairment meets or
medically equals a Listing, disability is conclusively
presumed. If not, at step four, the claimant's residual
functional capacity ("RFC") is assessed to
determine if the claimant can perform his past relevant work.
If so, the claim is denied. If the claimant cannot perform
past relevant work, then the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant, based on
his age, education, work experience, and RFC, can perform
other substantial gainful work. If the claimant cannot
perform other work, then he is found to be disabled. See 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
one, the ALJ determined that plaintiff met the insured status
requirements and had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since his alleged onset date. Plaintiffs bilateral
rotator cuff tendinopathy with history of right rotator cuff
tear and surgical repair, lumbago and degenerative disk
disease of the lumbar spine, obesity, depressive disorder,
and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") were
considered severe impairments at step two, but were not found
alone or in combination to meet or equal a listing at step
three. The ALJ concluded that plaintiff had the RFC to
perform light work with additional exertional limitations.
The ALJ then found that plaintiff was unable to return to his
past relevant work as a tractor trailer truck driver, but
that, considering plaintiffs age, education, work experience,
and RFC, there were other jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform.
Thus, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled
under the Act.
makes an RFC assessment based on all of the relevant medical
and other evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a). An RFC
should reflect the most that a claimant can do, despite the
claimant's limitations. Id. An RFC finding
should also reflect the claimant's ability to perform
sustained work-related activities in a work setting on
regular and continuing basis, meaning eight-hours per day,
five days per week. SSR 96-8p; Hines v. Barnhart,
453 F.3d 559, 562 (4th Cir. 2006). The ALJ must "explain
how any material inconsistencies or ambiguities in the
evidence in the case record were considered and
resolved." SSR 96-8p. If an opinion from a treating
source is well-supported by and consistent with the objective
medical evidence in the record, it may be entitled to
controlling weight. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c),
416.927(c). Where an opinion is inconsistent with other
evidence in the record, the ALJ need not give that opinion
any significant weight. Id; see also Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d at 585, 590 (4th Cir. 1996) ("[I]f
a physician's opinion is not supported by clinical
evidence or if it is inconsistent with other substantial
evidence, it should be accorded significantly less
weight."). However, ALJ's decision to do so must be
accompanied by "a narrative discussion" that
discusses "how the evidence supports each conclusion,
" such that the ALJ's decision is sufficiently
specific to make it clear to a reviewing district court
"why the opinion was not adopted." See SSR
ALJ's decision in this instance is not supported by
substantial evidence. The ALJ found plaintiff capable of
light work with the following limitations: that plaintiff can
never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds; can occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, stoop and crouch; can frequently
balance, kneel and crawl; can occasionally reach overhead
with both arms; is limited to simple, repetitive tasks in a
low-stress job, defined as having only occasional changes in
work setting; and can have occasional interaction with his
coworkers, but should have no interaction with the public.
Tr. 19. This conclusion is not supported by the record.
case, numerous medical opinions were submitted including two
opinions rendered by SSA's own consultative examiners
("CE"). Every one of them found plaintiff more
functionally restricted than the ALJ found in her decision.
Instead of weighing this evidence, the ALJ rejected each and
every opinion. Though an ALJ is entitled to resolve
inconsistencies between examining medical opinions, SSR
96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *7, the ALJ's decision must be
supported by substantial evidence, and must adequately
address the opinions of treating and consulting physicians
and properly explain deviancies between her opinion and the
Newsam found in January of 2012 that the number of hours
plaintiff could stand in an eight hour workday was less than
one hour. Dr. Newsam also found that the number of hours
plaintiff could walk in an eight hour workday was expected to
be less than two hours. Plaintiff could sit approximately two
hours in an eight hour work day, and he could lift and carry
fifteen pounds occasionally and frequently. Frequent
manipulation and ...