United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
B. Jones Jr. United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings [DE-23, DE-25] pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Claimant Penny Elizabeth Todd
("Claimant") filed this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial
review of the denial of her applications for a period of
disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB"). 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,
Claimant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is
denied, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
is allowed, and the final decision of the Commissioner is
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
protectively filed an application for a period of disability
and DIB on July 24, 2012, alleging disability beginning March
3, 2012. (R. 18, 158-62). Her claim was denied initially and
upon reconsideration. (R. 18, 96-99, 104-11). A hearing
before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was
held on April 24, 2014, at which Claimant was represented by
counsel and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared and
testified. (R. 29-62). On May 12, 2014, the ALJ issued a
decision denying Claimant's request for benefits. (R.
15-28). On October 7,, 2015, the Appeals Council denied
Claimant's request for review after incorporating
additional evidence into the record. (R. 1-6). Claimant then
filed a complaint in this court seeking review of the
now-final administrative decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of judicial review of a final agency decision regarding
disability benefits under the Social Security Act
("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 301 etseq., 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). "The findings of the Commissioner
... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence,
shall be conclusive . .. ." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence is "evidence which . a reasoning
mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular
conclusion." Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640,
642 (4th Cir. 1966). While substantial evidence is not a
"large or considerable amount of evidence, "
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988), it is
"more than a mere scintilla .. . and somewhat less than
a preponderance." Laws, 368 F.2d at 642.
"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 (4thCir. 2001) (quoting Craigv. Chater,
16 F.3d585, 589 (4thCir. 1996), superseded by
regulation on other grounds, 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(d)(2)). Rather, in conducting the "substantial
evidence" inquiry, the court's review is limited to
whether the ALJ analyzed the relevant evidence and
sufficiently explained his or her findings and rationale in
crediting the evidence. Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v.
Akers, 131 F.3d 438, 439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).
DISABILITY EVALUATION PROCESS
disability determination is based on a five-step sequential
evaluation process as set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520
under which the ALJ is to evaluate a claim:
The claimant (1) must not be engaged in "substantial
gainful activity, " i.e., currently working; and (2)
must have a "severe" impairment that (3) meets or
exceeds [in severity] the "listings" of specified
impairments, or is otherwise incapacitating to the extent
that the claimant does not possess the residual functional
capacity to (4) perform ... past work or (5) any other work.
Albright v. Comm 'r of the SSA, 174 F.3d 473,
475 n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). "If an applicant's claim
fails at any step of the process, the ALJ need not advance to
the subsequent steps." Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d
1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). The burden of
proof and production during the. first four steps of the
inquiry rests on the claimant. Id. At the fifth
step, the burden shifts to the ALJ to show that other work
exists in the national economy which the claimant can
assessing the severity of mental impairments, the ALJ must do
so in accordance with the "special technique"
described in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a(b)-(c). This
regulatory scheme identifies four broad functional areas in
which the ALJ rates the degree of functional limitation
resulting from a claimant's mental impairment(s):
activities of daily living; social functioning;
concentration, persistence or pace; and episodes of
decompensation. Id. § 404.1520a(c)(3). The ALJ
is required to incorporate into his written decision
pertinent findings and conclusions based on the "special
technique." Id. § 404.1520a(e)(3).
case, Claimant alleges that the ALJ erred by failing to
properly weigh the medical opinion evidence. PL's Mem.
[DE-24] at 8-14.