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Seagle v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Ashville Division

November 6, 2017

BECKY SEAGLE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Graham C. Mullen United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court upon Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) and Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13). Having carefully considered such motions and reviewed the pleadings, the court enters the following findings, conclusions, and Order.

         FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

         I. Administrative History

         Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits on February 28, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of April 24, 2009. Plaintiff's claim was denied both initially and on reconsideration. On July 23, 2014, the Appeals Council remanded Plaintiff's case. The ALJ held hearings on February 23, 2015 and April 13, 2015. On May 28, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision which was unfavorable to Plaintiff, from which Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council. Plaintiff's request for review was denied and the ALJ's decision affirmed by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Thereafter, Plaintiff timely filed this action.

         II. Factual Background

         In his decision, the ALJ first concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 24, 2009. (Tr. 25). At the second step, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity, hypothyroidism, anemia, obstructive sleep apnea, mild social anxiety, and mild depression. Id. At the third step, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 27). The ALJ specifically found that the Plaintiff had moderate difficulties in social functioning, and moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace. (Tr. 28).

         The ALJ then found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: “she can occasionally climb ladders; must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards; and is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a stable environment with occasional public contact.” (Tr. 29).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ found that the claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 33). However, at the fifth step, the ALJ concluded that there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including packer, folder, and assembler. (Tr. 34). Accordingly, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. Id.

         III. Standard of Review

         The only issues on review are whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Review by a federal court is not de novo, Smith v. Schwieker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir.1986); rather, inquiry is limited to whether there was “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, ” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 400. Even if the undersigned were to find that a preponderance of the evidence weighed against the Commissioner's decision, the Commissioner's decision would have to be affirmed if supported by substantial evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456.

         IV. Discussion

         Plaintiff argues, inter alia, that the ALJ's RFC evaluation was insufficient to account for her moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace.

         The ALJ is solely responsible for assessing a claimant's RFC. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1546(c) & 416.946(c). In making that assessment, the ALJ must consider the functional limitations resulting from the claimant's medically determinable impairments. SSR96-8p, available at 1996 WL 374184, at *2. The ALJ must also “include a narrative discussion describing how the ...


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