United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION
E. GRATES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
action, plaintiff Brian Walker ("plaintiff or, in
context, "claimant") challenges the final decision
of defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A.
Berryhill ("Commissioner") denying his applications
for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income
("SSI") on the grounds that he is not
disabled. The case is before the court on the
parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings. D.E. 19,
22. Both filed memoranda in support of their respective
motions. D.E. 20, 23. The motions were referred to the
undersigned magistrate judge for a memorandum and
recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).
See 8 Mar. 2017 Text Ord.
motion, plaintiff seeks remand of this case for a new hearing
on the ground that the decision denying his claims errs in
the evaluation of the opinions of his primary care physician,
Linda Greenspan, D.O. The court agrees. Therefore, for the
reasons set forth below, it will be recommended that
plaintiffs motion be allowed, the Commissioner's motion
be denied, and this case be remanded.
filed an application for DIB and an application for SSI on 8
October 2012, both alleging a disability onset date of 1
September 2010, subsequently amended to 29 August 2012.
Transcript of Proceedings ("Tr.") 37 (recitation by
the administrative law judge O'ALJ") in his decision
of the amended alleged disability onset date), 68-69
(ALJ's allowance of amendment of alleged disability onset
date at hearing), 199 (original alleged disability onset date
in SSI application), 206 (same for DIB application). The
applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration,
and a request for a hearing was timely filed. Tr. 37. On 25
September 2014, a video hearing was held before the ALJ, at
which plaintiff, represented by counsel, and a vocational
expert testified. Tr. 52-71. The ALJ issued a decision
denying plaintiffs claims on 30 October 2014. Tr. 37-46.
Plaintiff timely requested review by the Appeals Council (Tr.
28-29), but on 22 February 2016, it denied the request (Tr.
1), finding that additional medical evidence submitted by
plaintiff (Tr. 6-7, 15-27) was not relevant on the grounds
that it related to a period postdating the ALJ's decision
(Tr. 2). At that time, the decision of the ALJ became the
final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.981, 416.1481. On 14 April 2016, plaintiff commenced this
proceeding for judicial review of the ALJ's decision,
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) (DIB) and
1383(c)(3) (SSI). See Mot. for Leave to Proceed
In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") (D.E. 1); Ord.
Granting IFP Mot. (D.E. 4); Compl. (D.E. 5).
Standards for Disability
Social Security Act ("Act") defines disability as
the "inability 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 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A); see Id. § 1382c(a)(3)(A);
Pass v. Chafer, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995).
"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 kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); see
Id. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The Act defines a physical or
mental impairment as "an impairment that results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).
disability regulations under the Act
("Regulations") provide a five-step analysis that
the ALJ must follow when determining whether a claimant is
To summarize, the ALJ asks at step one whether the claimant
has been working; at step two, whether the claimant's
medical impairments meet the [Regulations' severity and
duration requirements; at step three, whether the medical
impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in the
[R]egulations; at step four, whether the claimant can perform
[his] past work given the limitations caused by [his] medical
impairments; and at step five, whether the claimant can
perform other work.
The first four steps create a series of hurdles for claimants
to meet. If the ALJ finds that the claimant has been working
(step one) or that the claimant's medical impairments do
not meet the severity and duration requirements of the
[R]egulations (step two), the process ends with a finding of
"not disabled." At step three, the ALJ either finds
that the claimant is disabled because [his] impairments match
a listed impairment [i.e., a listing in 20 C.F.R.
pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 ("the Listings")] or
continues the analysis. The ALJ cannot deny benefits at this
If the first three steps do not lead to a conclusive
determination, the ALJ then assesses the claimant's
residual functional capacity ["RFC"], which is
"the most" the claimant "can still do
despite" physical and mental limitations that affect
[his] ability to work. [20 C.F.R.] §
416.945(a)(1). To make this assessment, the ALJ
must "consider all of [the claimant's] medically
determinable impairments of which [the ALJ is] aware, "
including those not labeled severe at step two. Id.
The ALJ then moves on to step four, where the ALJ can find
the claimant not disabled because [he] is able to perform
[his] past work. Or, if the exertion required for the
claimant's past work exceeds [his] [RFC], the ALJ goes on
to step five.
At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove,
by a preponderance of the evidence, that the claimant can
perform other work that "exists in significant numbers
in the national economy, " considering the
claimant's [RFC], age, education, and work experience.
Id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v); 416.960(c)(2);
416.1429. The Commissioner typically offers
this evidence through the testimony of a vocational expert
responding to a hypothetical that incorporates the
claimant's limitations. If the Commissioner meets her
burden, the ALJ finds the claimant not disabled and denies
the application for benefits.
Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir.
was 32 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and
34 years old on the date of the hearing. See, e.g.,
Tr. 44 ¶ 7; 55. The ALJ found that plaintiff has a
limited education (Tr. 44 ¶ 8) and past relevant
work as a forklift operator (Tr. 44 ¶ 6).
found that plaintiff met the insured requirements under the
Act through 30 September 2014. Tr. 39 ¶ 1. Applying the
five-step analysis of 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)
and 416.920(a)(4), the ALJ then found at step one that
plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the alleged disability onset date, 29 August 2012. Tr.
39 ¶ 2. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff has
the following severe impairments that are severe within the
meaning of the Regulations: diabetes mellitus, hypertension,
obesity, and osteoarthritis of the knee. Tr. 39 ¶ 3. At
step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals any of the Listings. Tr. 40 ¶ 4.
next determined that plaintiff had the RFC to perform a
limited range of light work:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
the claimant has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined
in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)except he can never climb
ladders/ropes/scaffolds and only occasionally climb
ramps/stairs. He can occasionally balance, crouch, kneel, and
crawl. Furthermore, he can frequently stoop and must avoid
concentrated exposure to unprotected heights. He is limited
to simple, routine, repetitive tasks. Lastly, the claimant is
limited to jobs that do not require any complex written
Tr. 41 ¶ 5. "[T]he full range of light work
requires standing or walking, off and on, for a total of
approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour workday." Soc. Sec.
Ruling 83-10, 1983 WL 31251, at *6 (1983). By not limiting
plaintiffs standing or walking time, the ALJ thus found him