United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
JOHN E. POWELL, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
Reidinger United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 9] and the Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 11].
Plaintiff John E. Powell filed an application for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits on August 2,
2012, alleging an onset date of April 1, 2011. [Transcript
(“T.”) 16]. The Plaintiff later amended his
alleged onset date to July 1, 2012. [T. 16, 18, 44-45]. The
Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration. [T. 16, 123, 130]. Upon the Plaintiff's
request, a hearing was held on October 22, 2014, before
Administrative Law Judge Thaddeus J. Hess (“ALJ
Hess”). [T. 16, 40-80]. The Plaintiff testified at this
hearing, as did a vocational expert (“VE”).
[Id.]. On January 7, 2015, ALJ Hess issued a
decision denying the Plaintiff benefits. [T. 16-34]. The
Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for
review, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. [T. 1-5]. The Plaintiff has
exhausted all available administrative remedies, and this
case is now ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
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 June 30, 2015, and that he has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended
alleged onset date of July 1, 2011. [T. 18]. The ALJ then
found that the medical evidence established that the
Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: diabetes
mellitus, asthma, hypertension, obesity, anxiety and major
depressive disorder. [Id.]. The ALJ specifically
found that the Plaintiff's other claimed conditions,
including migraine headaches, traumatic arthritis of right
ankle, allergic rhinitis, chest pain, MRSA infection,
gastroesophageal reflux disease (“GERD”),
headaches, dizziness, vertigo, left flank pain, back pain,
and attention deficit disorder, did not result in any
significant functional limitations or were not medically
determinable from the record, and were therefore not severe
impairments. [T. 18-19]. The ALJ determined that none of
Plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in combination,
met or equaled a listing. [T. 19]. The ALJ then assessed the
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) [T.
22-33], finding as follows:
[T]he [Plaintiff] has the RFC to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that he can never climb
ladders/ropes/scaffolds; can only occasionally climb
ramp/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; and
must avoid concentrated exposure to workplace hazards such as
unprotected heights and moving machinery, extreme cold/hear
and dust fumes, gases, etc.; [h]e is limited to simple,
routine, repetitive tasks with no more than occasional
decision making with ...