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Gordon v. Berryhill

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

November 28, 2017

LISA M. GORDON, 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. 15) and Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 17). 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 Lisa M. Gordon (“Gordon” or “Plaintiff”) initially filed her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and SSI on July 5, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of July 1, 2006. At her most recent hearing, Plaintiff amended the alleged onset date to September 27, 2013. After Plaintiff's claim was denied both initially and on reconsideration, she requested and was granted a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Eduardo Soto. After reviewing the record and conducting a video hearing, Judge Soto issued a decision on August 14, 2013, that was unfavorable to Plaintiff, from which Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council vacated and remanded the case for further consideration on September 11, 2014. A new in-person hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Wendell M. Sims (“the ALJ”) for de novo review of Plaintiff's claims on March 30, 2015. On May 26, 2015, the ALJ issued his determination that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. On January 14, 2016, Plaintiff's request for review was denied, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff timely filed this action, seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision.

         II. Factual Background

         In his decision, the ALJ at the first step determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date (Tr. 22). At the second step, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the following combination of severe impairments: osteoarthritis of the right ankle and right knee, status post open reduction internal fixation of the right ankle, missing three fingers on the non-dominant left hand, missing one toe on the right foot, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), obesity, carpal tunnel syndrome, and major depressive and anxiety disorders. (Id.). At the third step, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of one the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 24). However, in reaching this determination the ALJ did find that Plaintiff has mild restrictions in activities of daily living and social functioning, and moderate difficulties with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 25).

         The ALJ then found that Plaintiff has residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work with the following limitations:

except that she is limited to occasional climbing, balancing, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. Further, she is limited to frequent but no constant handling and fingering with her bilateral upper extremities. Finally, she is limited to simple routine repetitive tasks in a stable environment at a non-production pace.

(Tr 26). Based on these limitations, the ALJ found in the fourth step that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 37). However, at the fifth step, the ALJ concluded that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including Poly-Packer Heat-Sealer, Photocopying-Machine Operator, and Glue Machine Sealer (officially labeled “sealing-machine operator”). (Tr. 37-38). Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Act.

         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. ...


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