United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings. [DE 17, 19]. A hearing on this
matter was held on August 30, 2017, in Raleigh, North
Carolina. [DE 24]. For the reasons discussed below, the
decision of the Commissioner is reversed.
December 11, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for Social
Security Disability Insurance. Plaintiff alleged a disability
onset date of May 1, 2012, due to the following conditions:
severe venous insufficiency, degenerative disc disease
("DDD") of the spine, and morbid obesity. [Tr. 17].
Plaintiffs application was denied both initially and upon
reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") held a hearing on July 9, 2014, to consider
plaintiffs claims de novo. [Tr. 32-51]. On September
23, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that
plaintiff was not disabled. [Tr. 15-26]. The Appeals Council
denied plaintiffs request for a review of the ALJ's
decision [Tr. 1-3], thereby rendering the ALJ's decision
the final decision of the Commissioner. On April 8, 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). [DE5].
district court's review of the Commissioner's final
decision is limited to determining whether the correct legal
standard was applied 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
the Social Security Act ("Act"), an 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).
engages in a sequential five-step evaluation process to make
an initial disability determination. 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). If a decision regarding the claimant's disability
can be made at any step of the process, the ALJ's inquiry
ceases. 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. At step three, the ALJ compares the
claimant's impairment to those in the Listing of
Impairments. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App.
1. If the impairment is listed, or equivalent to a listed
impairment, disability is conclusively presumed without
considering the claimant's age, education, and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). However, if the
impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the
ALJ then makes a residual functional capacity
("RFC") finding. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(e).
making an RFC finding, the ALJ's 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 her limitations. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). Moreover, an RFC finding should
reflect the claimant's ability to perform sustained
work-related activities in a work setting on regular and
continuing basis, meaning eight-hours per day, five days per
week. SSR 96-8p; Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559,
562 (4th Cir. 2006).
four, the ALJ considers a claimant's RFC to determine
whether she can perform past relevant work ("PRW")
despite her impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). If
not, 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 work. Id. To determine what
occupations are available that a claimant could perform, the
ALJ relies on the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
("DOT") including its companion publication,
Selected Characteristics of Occupations Defined in the
Revised Dictionary of ...