United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
J. Conrad, Jr. United States District Judge
MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 8), and Memorandum in
Support, (Doc. No. 9), and Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment, (Doc. No. 11), and Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No.
Linda Green (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review
of Carolyn W. Colvin's (“Defendant” or
“Commissioner”) denial of her social security
claim. (Doc. No. 1). On October 5, 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. 7 to 7-9: Administrative Record
(“Tr.”) at 48, 121-25). Plaintiff alleged an
inability to work due to disabling conditions beginning on
April 2, 2012. (Id. at 123). The Commissioner denied
Plaintiff's application initially on December 4, 2012,
and again after reconsideration on February 22, 2013.
(Id. at 48-67). Plaintiff filed a timely written
request for a hearing. (Id. at 88).
January 27, 2014, Plaintiff, represented by counsel,
participated in and testified at a video hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id.
at 34-47). The ALJ issued a decision on March 18, 2014,
denying Plaintiff's claims. (Id. at 14-33).
Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's
decision on or about April 24, 2014, which was denied by the
Appeals Council on October 9, 2015. (Id. at 13,
1-7). Therefore, the March 18, 2014 ALJ decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner.
Complaint seeking judicial review and a remand of her case
was filed in this Court on December 8, 2015. (Doc. No. 1).
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 8),
and Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 9), were
filed May 9, 2016; and Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment, (Doc. No. 11), and Defendant's Memorandum in
Support, (Doc. No. 12), were filed August 8, 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.
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 April 2, 2012,
and the date of his decision on March 18, 2014. (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 April 2, 2012, through
the date of his decision, March 18, 2014. (Tr. at 14-33).
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,
(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
(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 22-29).
the ALJ first concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in any
substantial gainful activity since April 2, 2012, the alleged
disability onset date. (Id. at 19). At the second
step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: “degenerative disc disease, obesity, and
an affective disorder.” (Id.). At the third
step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an
“impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.”
(Id. at 21-22).
the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's RFC and found that she
retained the capacity to perform “light” work.
(Id. at 22-27). Specifically, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform as follows:
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she can
perform only occasional postural activities and is precluded
from climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She should avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme cold and hazards and is
limited to simple, unskilled work.
(Id. at 22). In making his finding, the ALJ
specifically stated that he “considered all symptoms
and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be
accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence
and other evidence.” (Id.). The ALJ further
opined that he “considered opinion evidence in
accordance with the requirements of 20 CFR 404.1527 and SSRs
96-2p, 96-5p, 96-6p and 06-3p.” (Id.).
fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform
her past relevant work. (Id. at 25). At the fifth
and final step, the ALJ concluded, based on the testimony of
a vocational expert and “considering [Plaintiff's]
age, education, work experience, and residual functional
capacity, [that] there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can
perform.” (Id.). Therefore, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff was not under a “disability, ” as
defined by the Social Security Act, from April 2, 2012
through the date of his decision. (Id. at 29).
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and §
1383(c)(3), limits this Court's review of a final
decision of the Commissioner to: (1) whether substantial
evidence supports the Commissioner's decision,
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401
(1971); and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct
legal standards, Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453,
1456 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Hunter v. Sullivan,
993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992) (per curiam). The District
Court does not review a final decision of the Commissioner de
novo. Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th
Cir. 1986); King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th
Cir. 1979); Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775
(4th Cir. 1972). As the Social Security Act provides,
“[t]he findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact,
if supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). In Smith v.
Heckler, the Fourth Circuit noted that
“substantial evidence” has been defined as being
“more than a scintilla and do[ing] more than creat[ing]
a suspicion of the existence of a fact to be established. It
means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a ...