United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
TIMOTHY C. COCHRAN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Timothy Cochran's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 6), filed February 21,
2017, and Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security
Nancy A. Berryhill's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.
No. 8), filed April 19, 2017. Plaintiff seeks judicial review
of an unfavorable administrative decision on his application
for disability benefits.
reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative
record, and applicable authority, and for the reasons set
forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is
DENIED, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is
GRANTED, and the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
filed an application for Title XVI benefits on January 11,
2013, alleging disability beginning October 30, 2010. (Tr.
25). The claim was denied initially on May 22, 2013, and upon
reconsideration on October 11, 2013. Id. Plaintiff
filed a request for an administrative hearing on October 31,
2013, and Administrative Law Judge Marshall D. Riley
(“the ALJ”) held a hearing on August 12, 2014.
Id. On September 12, 2014, the ALJ issued decision
finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 37).
found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since January 11, 2013. (Tr. 27), and had the severe
impairments of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease),
arthralgias, anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder,
panic disorder without agoraphobia, and personality disorder.
Id. However, the ALJ determined Plaintiff did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR
Part 404, Subpart B, App. 1. Id. The ALJ then found
Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of light work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b) with the following
lifting 20 pounds occasionally and tend pounds frequently;
standing/walking with normal breaks six to eight hours; and
sitting for six hours; no pushing/pulling limitations; no
postural limitations; no manipulative limitations; no visual
limitation. . . . The claimant should be able to understand
and remember well enough for unskilled work (short,
repetitive tasks), interact appropriately in a non-skilled
work environment but not with the general public; and adapt
and respond appropriately well enough for unskilled work.
(Tr. 29). The ALJ found Plaintiff had no past relevant work.
(Tr. 36). However, based on education, work experience, and
RFC, the VE produced a list of jobs available in significant
numbers Plaintiff could perform with the recorded
requested a review of the ALJ's decision on September 29,
2014. (Tr. 21). The request was denied by the Appeals Council
on July 29, 2016. (Tr. 1). Thus, the ALJ's decision of
September 12, 2014, became the final decision of the
Commissioner. (Tr. 1). Having exhausted administrative
remedies, Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The parties' Motions for Summary Judgment
are now ripe for review. Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred in
assessing mental RFC, weighing opinion evidence, and
assessing Plaintiff's credibility. (Doc. No. 7).
405(g) of Title 42 of the United States Code provides
judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's
denial of social security benefits. When examining a
disability determination, a reviewing court is required to
uphold the determination when an ALJ has applied correct
legal standards and the ALJ's factual findings are
supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Westmoreland Coal Co., Inc. v. Cochran, 718 F.3d
319, 322 (4th Cir. 2013); Bird v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012). A reviewing
court may not re-weigh conflicting evidence or make
credibility determinations because “it is not within
the province of the reviewing court to determine the weight
of the evidence, nor is it the court's function to
substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary if his
decision is supported by substantial evidence.”
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
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) (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted).
“It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence
but may be less than a preponderance.” Pearson v.
Colvin, 810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal
quotation marks omitted). We do not reweigh evidence or make
credibility determinations in evaluating whether a decision
is supported by substantial evidence; “[w]here
conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ,
” we defer to the ALJ's decision. Johnson,
434 F.3d at 653.
order to establish entitlement to benefits, a claimant must
provide evidence of a medically determinable impairment that
precludes returning to past relevant work and adjustment to
other work.” Flesher v. Berryhill, 697
Fed.Appx. 212 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1508, 404.1520(g)). In evaluating a disability claim, the
Commissioner uses a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. Pursuant to this five-step process, the
Commissioner asks, in sequence, whether the claimant: (1)
worked during the alleged period of disability; (2) had a
severe impairment; (3) had an impairment that met or equaled
the severity of a listed impairment; (4) could return to his
past relevant work; and (5) if not, could perform any other
work in the national economy. Id.; see also
Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 861 (4th Cir. 2017)
(citing Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th
Cir. 2015); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4)). The claimant bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four, but the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. See Lewis, 858 F.3d at
861; Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 179-80 (4th
the claimant fails to demonstrate she has a disability that
meets or medically equals a listed impairment at step three,
the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to step four,
which is ‘the most [the claimant] can still do despite
[her physical and mental] limitations [that affect h[er]
ability to work].'” Lewis, 858 F.3d at
861-62 (quoting 20 C.F.R. §§ ...