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Brooks v. Berryhill

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

March 29, 2017

MURIEL S. BROOKS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Robert J. Conrad, Jr., United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 6), and Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 7), and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 9), and Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 10).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Muriel S. Brooks (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of Carolyn W. Colvin's (“Defendant” or “Commissioner”) denial of her social security claim. (Doc. No. 1). On March 16, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405 et seq. (Doc. Nos. 5 to 5-13: Administrative Record (“Tr.”) at 71). Plaintiff alleged an inability to work due to disabling conditions beginning on December 9, 2010. (Id. at 145-46). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially on July 16, 2012, and again after reconsideration on October 10, 2012. (Id. at 88-91, 93-96). Plaintiff filed a timely written request for a hearing. (Id. at 97-98).

         On April 8, 2014, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at 31-59). The ALJ issued a decision on July 3, 2014, denying Plaintiff's claims. (Id. at 13-30). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision on or about September 8, 2014, which was denied by the Appeals Council on July 25, 2015. (Id. at 12, 8-10). Therefore, the July 3, 2014 ALJ decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Plaintiff's Complaint seeking judicial review and a remand of her case was filed in this Court on September 23, 2015. (Doc. No. 1). Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 6), and Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 7), were filed February 8, 2016; and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 9), and Defendant's Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 10), were filed May 9, 2016. Plaintiff did not file a response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and the time for doing so has passed. The pending motions are ripe for adjudication.

         B. Factual Background

         The question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was under a “disability” as that term of art is defined for Social Security purposes, at any time between December 9, 2010, and the date of his decision on July 3, 2014.[1] (Tr. at 16). To establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden of proving that she was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability at any time from December 9, 2010, through the date of his decision, July 3, 2014. (Tr. at 13-30).

         The Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The five steps are:

(1) whether claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity-if yes, not disabled;
(2) whether claimant has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment, or combination of impairments that meet the duration requirement in § 404.1509-if no, not disabled;
(3) whether claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listings in appendix 1 and meets the duration requirement-if yes, disabled;
(4) whether claimant has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform his or her past relevant work-if yes, not disabled; and
(5) whether considering claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience he or she can make an adjustment to other work-if yes, not disabled.

See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). In this case, the ALJ determined at the fifth step that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. at 20-25).

         Specifically, the ALJ first concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since December 9, 2010, the alleged disability onset date. (Id. at 18). At the second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “anxiety, panic attacks, depression, urinary incontinence, status-post tailbone injury, migraine headache, and obesity.” (Id.). At the third step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an “impairment or combination of ...


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