United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
BRIDGETTE A. WILLIAMSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings, [D.E. 22, 25]. A hearing on
this matter was held in Edenton, North Carolina on August 31,
2017. [D.E. 30]. For the reasons discussed below, plaintiffs
motion [D.E. 22] is DENIED, defendant's motion [D.E. 25]
is GRANTED, and the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
October 15, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for
supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act ("Act"). [Tr. 19, 34].
Plaintiff alleged that she was unable to work due to
depression, back pain, arthritis, an irregular mammogram, and
asthma. [Tr. 35]. Plaintiff claimed a disability onset date
of February 1, 2012. Id. Plaintiffs applications
were denied initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 19]. An
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing on
August 20, 2015, to consider plaintiffs claims de
novo. [Tr. 566-92].
October 23, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying
plaintiffs claim. [Tr. 19-29]. On June 30, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied plaintiffs request for review, and the
ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final
decision. [Tr. 1-3]. On July 29, 2016, plaintiff filed a
complaint seeking judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). [D.E. 8].
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 defined as "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 citation omitted). Substantial
evidence '"consists of more than a mere scintilla of
evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance.'" Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d
585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). When
determining whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's final decision, courts should not
"undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make
credibility determinations, or substitute our judgment for
that of the [Commissioner]." Id. (citing
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
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. §
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 is 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).
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. If the ...