United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 11] and the Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 13].
Plaintiff Kevin Gerald Gouge filed an application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits on
March 2, 2013, alleging an onset date of August 21, 2012.
[Transcript (“T.”) 121-23]. The Plaintiff's
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. [T. 44-71,
72-75]. Upon the Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held
on July 2, 2014, before Administrative Law Judge Sherman D.
Schwartzberg (“ALJ Schwartzberg”). [T. 24-43,
76-77]. The Plaintiff testified at this hearing, as did a
vocational expert (“VE”). On September 3, 2014,
ALJ Schwartzberg issued a decision denying the Plaintiff
benefits. [T. 7-19]. The Appeals Council denied the
Plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
[T. 1-4]. The Plaintiff has exhausted all available
administrative remedies, and this case is now ripe for review
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner is
limited to (1) whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's decision, see Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), and (2) whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
1990). The Court does not review a final decision of the
Commissioner de novo. Smith v. Schweiker,
795 F.2d 343, 345 (4thCir. 1986).
Social Security Act provides that “[t]he findings of
the Commissioner of any Social Security as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . .
.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Fourth Circuit has
defined “substantial evidence” as “more
than a scintilla and [doing] 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 conclusion.” Smith v.
Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986)
(quoting Perales, 402 U.S. at 401).
Court may not re-weigh the evidence or substitute its own
judgment for that of the Commissioner, even if it disagrees
with the Commissioner's decision, so long as there is
substantial evidence in the record to support the final
decision below. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456; Lester
v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 838, 841 (4th Cir.
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
determining whether or not a claimant is disabled, the ALJ
follows a five-step sequential process. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920. If the claimant's case
fails at any step, the ALJ does not go any further and
benefits are denied. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200,
1203 (4th Cir. 1995).
if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity,
the application is denied regardless of the medical
condition, age, education, or work experience of the
applicant. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Second,
the claimant must show a severe impairment. If the claimant
does not show any impairment or combination thereof which
significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental
ability to perform work activities, then no severe impairment
is shown and the claimant is not disabled. Id.
Third, if the impairment meets or equals one of the listed
impairments of Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation 4, the
claimant is disabled regardless of age, education or work
experience. Id. Fourth, if the impairment does not
meet the criteria above but is still a severe impairment,
then the ALJ reviews the claimant's residual functional
capacity (RFC) and the physical and mental demands of work
done in the past. If the claimant can still perform that
work, then a finding of not disabled is mandated.
Id. Fifth, if the claimant has a severe impairment
but cannot perform past relevant work, then the ALJ will
consider whether the applicant's residual functional
capacity, age, education, and past work experience enable the
performance of other work. If so, then the claimant is not
disabled. Id. In this case, the ALJ's
determination was made at the fifth step.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
denying the Plaintiff's claim, the ALJ found that the
Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2016, and that he has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date of August 21, 2012. [T. 12]. The ALJ then found
that the medical evidence established that the Plaintiff has
the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, degenerative
disc disease, degenerative joint disease of the left wrist,
and obesity. [T. 12-13]. The ALJ specifically found that the
Plaintiff's other claimed conditions, including
rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety, and depression, did not result
in any significant functional limitations and were therefore
not severe impairments. [Id.]. The ALJ determined
that none of Plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in
combination, met or equaled a listing. [T. 13]. The ALJ then
assessed the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(RFC) [T. 13-17], finding as follows:
[T]he [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to
perform simple, routine, repetitive work at the light level
of exertion . . . which includes occasional postural
limitations, no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds,
occasional overhead reaching with the left upper extremity,
avoid concentrated ...