United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
CLEVIE M. LOVETT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
cause comes before the Court on cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings. A hearing was held on these matters before the
undersigned on May 18, 2017, at Edenton, North Carolina. For
the reasons discussed below, the decision of the Commissioner
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3) for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner denying her claim for disability and disability
insurance benefits (DIB) pursuant to Title II of the Social
Security Act. Plaintiff protectively applied for DIB on March
23, 2015, alleging disability since February 26, 2015. After
initial denials, a hearing was held before an Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) who issued an unfavorable ruling. The
decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the
Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiffs
request for review. Plaintiff then timely sought review of
the Commissioner's decision in this Court.
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), and
1383(c)(3), this Court's review of the Commissioner's
decision is limited to determining whether the decision, as a
whole, is supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner employed the correct legal standard.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Johnson v. Barnhart, A2>A F.3d
650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (internal quotation and
individual is considered disabled if he is unable "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
[twelve] months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The
Act further provides that 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 line of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
issued by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be followed in a disability case. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four,
but the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
If a decision regarding disability can be made at any step of
the process the inquiry ceases. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).
one, if the Social Security Administration determines that
the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. If not, then step two asks
whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination
of impairments. If the claimant has a severe impairment, it
is compared at step three to those in the Listing of
Impairments ("Listing") in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1. If the claimant's impairment meets or
medically equals a Listing, disability is conclusively
presumed. If not, at step four, the claimant's residual
functional capacity (RFC) is assessed to determine if the
claimant can perform his past relevant work. If so, the claim
is denied. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work,
then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to
show that the claimant, based on his age, education, work
experience, and RFC, can perform other substantial gainful
work. If the claimant cannot perform other work, then he is
found to be disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §
one, the ALJ determined that plaintiff met the insured status
and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her
alleged onset date. Plaintiffs degenerative disc disease,
osteoarthritis, and obesity were considered severe
impairments at step two but were not found alone or in
combination to meet or equal a Listing at step three. The ALJ
concluded that plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work
with some exertional limitations. The ALJ found that
plaintiff could return to her past relevant work as a nurse
supervisor and charge nurse. Thus, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff was not disabled from her alleged onset date
through the decision date, January 12, 2016.
contends that the ALJ erred in determining that plaintiff
could perform her past relevant work and that the ALJ erred
in finding that plaintiff could perform a reduced range of
light work. The Court addresses each assignment of error in
argument concerning whether she could perform her past
relevant work focuses on whether she could perform her past
nursing jobs as she performed them. Indeed, the vocational
expert (VE) at the hearing noted that plaintiffs past work as
performed was either medium or heavy. Tr. 48-49. However, the
inquiry before the ALJ is not whether plaintiff could perform
her past work as she performed it, but rather whether she can
perform that work as it is performed generally in the
national economy. SSR 82-61. The VE testified that as it is
generally performed, the job of nurse supervisor and charge
nurse is light. Tr. 48. Thus, the ALJ did not commit error in
finding that with an RFC of light plaintiff could return to
her past relevant work.
ALJ's RFC assessment is further supported by substantial
evidence. An ALJ makes an RFC assessment based on all of the
relevant medical and other evidence. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(3). Although plaintiff contends that the
ALJ's RFC finding contradicts the assessment of Dr.
Gebrail, the consultative examiner, the ALJ afforded Dr.
Gebrail's opinion great weight. Tr. 21. Further, Dr.
Gebrail noted that plaintiff would benefit from performing
more sedentary work than the work she had been performing,
which was classified as medium or heavy, not that she would
be limited to sedentary work as that term is defined under
the Social Security regulations. ...