United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
KIMBERLY A. SWANK United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the court pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) on
the parties' cross motions for judgment on the pleadings
[DE # 20 & 21], the parties having consented to proceed
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Plaintiff Roderick
Vonzell Allen 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 security income
("SSI"). The parties have fully briefed the issues,
and the pending motions are ripe for adjudication. On
November 10, 2016, the court held oral argument in the
matter. The court has carefully reviewed the administrative
record and the motions and memoranda submitted by the parties
and considered the arguments of counsel. For the reasons set
forth below, the court grants Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment
on the Pleadings, denies Defendant's Motion for Judgment
on the Pleadings, and remands the matter to the Commissioner
for further proceedings.
OF THE CASE
applied for a period of disability, disability insurance
benefits, and supplemental security income on September 24,
2012, with an alleged onset date of November 15, 2011 (R. 27,
190-99), which Plaintiff subsequently amended to March 1,
2013 (R. 52-53). The application was denied initially and
upon reconsideration, and a request for hearing was filed.
(R. 27, 96-97, 118-19, 126-27, 131-32, 135-36.)
Administrative Law Judge Ronald Sweeda ("AL J")
held a video hearing on September 26, 2014; the ALJ denied
benefits in a ruling issued October 29, 2014. (R. 27, 40-41.)
Plaintiffs request for review by the Appeals Council was
denied, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. (R. 1.) Plaintiff now seeks judicial review
of the final administrative decision.
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) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted) (alteration in
original) (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640,
642 (4th Cir. 1966)). '"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) (internal quotation marks omitted)
(first and second alterations in original) (quoting
Craig, 76 F.3d at 589). 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).
"Judicial review of an administrative decision is
impossible without an adequate explanation of that decision
by the administrator." DeLoatche v. Heckler,
715 F.2d 148, 150 (4th Cir. 1983).
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. l; (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. Commr
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 that Plaintiff met
the insured status requirements through December 31, 2015.
(R. 29.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
(R. 30.) Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following
severe impairments: "degenerative disc disease,
hepatitis C, depression, history of frostbite and history of
substance abuse." (Id.) The ALJ identified knee
pain, facial cysts, and hypothyroidism as non-severe
impairments. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiffs 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. (Id.)
to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiffs
residual functional capacity ("RFC") and found that
Plaintiff had "the residual functional capacity to
perform medium work . . . except no exposure to work hazards
and simple routine repetitive tasks." (R. 32.) In making
this assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiffs statements about
the severity of his symptoms not "fully credible"
and listed several reasons for discounting Plaintiffs
credibility. (R. 38.) At step four, the ALJ concluded
Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work.
(Id.) At step five, the ALJ determined jobs exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform and listed laundry worker, janitor, and packer
as potential occupations. (R. 39-40.)
challenges the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits
on two grounds. First, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ
incorrectly evaluated his RFC. Second, Plaintiff argues that
the ALJ erred in failing to ...