United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division
JEANETTE L. PRIDGEN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT PUDGE
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings, [D.E. 16, 18] filed in
conjunction with accompanying memoranda in support [D.E. 17,
19]. A hearing on this matter was held in Raleigh, North
Carolina on July 25, 2017. [D.E. 25]. For the reasons
discussed below, plaintiffs motion is DENIED and
defendant's motion is GRANTED. The decision of the
Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
has past relevant work ("PRW") as a painter. [Tr.
87]. Plaintiff asserts that she stopped working due to back
problems, arthritis, asthma, and depression. [Tr. 125]. On
the j alleged disability onset date
of August 11, 2012, plaintiff was 33 years old. [D.E. 17] at
November 30, 2012, plaintiff filed applications for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act ("Act") and supplemental security
income benefits under Title XVI of the Act. [Tr. 151-52].
Plaintiffs applications were denied both initially and upon
reconsideration. [Tr. 194-201, 202-11]. An Administrative Law
Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing on December 4, 2014,
to consider plaintiffs claims de novo. [Tr. 94-124].
On February 6, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying
plaintiffs claim. [Tr. 78-88]. On March 3, 2015, plaintiff
requested a review of the ALJ's decision. [Tr. 74]. On
June 4, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the request for
review [Tr. 1-7], thereby rendering the ALJ's decision
the final decision of the Commissioner. On June 27, 2016,
plaintiff filed a complaint with the court seeking judicial
review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). [DE5].
social security claimant appeals a final decision of the
Commissioner, the district court's review is limited to a
determination of whether the Commissioner employed the
correct legal standard and whether, based on the entire
administrative record, there is substantial evidence to
support the Commissioner's findings. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); 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, 434 F.3d 650,
653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (internal quotation and
individual is considered disabled if she 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:
an individual shall be determined to be under a disability
only if [her] physical or mental impairment or impairments
are of such severity that [she] is not only unable to do
[her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other line of
substantial gainful work ....
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
making an initial disability determination, the ALJ engages
in a sequential five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a); see Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653.
The burden of proof is on the claimant for the first four
steps of this inquiry, but shifts to the Commissioner at the
fifth step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th
Cir. 1995). The ALJ's inquiry ceases if a decision
regarding claimant's disability can be made at any step
of the process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
evaluating adults, the ALJ denies the claim at step one if
the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). At step two, the
ALJ denies the claim if the claimant does not have a severe
impairment or combination of impairments significantly
limiting her from performing basic work activities.
Id. The ALJ cannot deny benefits at step three;
rather, the ALJ compares the claimant's impairment to
those in the Listing of Impairments. See Id. (citing
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1). If the impairment is
listed in the Listing of Impairments, or if it is equivalent
to a listed impairment, disability is conclusively presumed
without considering the claimant's age, education, and
work experience. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d).
However, if the claimant's impairment does not meet or
equal a listed impairment, the ALJ then makes a residual
functional capacity ("RFC") finding. 20 C.F.R.
ALJ's RFC finding considers both severe and non-severe
impairments, and any combination thereof, and takes into
account both objective medical evidence as well as subjective
complaints of pain and limitations. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(e). The ALJ further considers the claimant's
ability to meet the physical, mental, sensory, and other
requirements of accomplishing work. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(4). An RFC finding is meant to reflect the most
that a claimant can do, despite his or her limitations. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1).
four, the ALJ considers a claimant's RFC to determine
whether he or she can perform past work despite the
claimant's impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
If the claimant cannot perform past work, the ALJ proceeds to
step five of the analysis: establishing whether the
claimant-based on her RFC, age, education, and work
experience-can make an adjustment to perform other
(substantial gainful) work. Id. When determining
what occupations are available that a claimant could perform,
an ALJ relies on the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (DOT) including its companion publication,
Selected Characteristics of Occupations Defined in the