United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION
B. Jones, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings [DE-19, -21] pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Claimant Kisha Nicole White
("Claimant") filed this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial
review of the denial of her applications for a period of
disability, Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"),
and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") payments.
The time for filing responsive briefs has expired, and the
pending motions are ripe for adjudication. Having carefully
reviewed the administrative record and the motions and
memoranda submitted by the parties, it is recommended that
Claimant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings be
allowed, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
be denied, and the case be remanded to the Commissioner for
further proceedings consistent with the Memorandum and
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
protectively filed applications for a period of disability,
DIB, and SSI on May 6, 2013, alleging disability beginning
August 15, 2012. (R. 26). Both claims were denied initially
and upon reconsideration. (R. 114-57). A hearing before the
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was held on April
29, 2015, at which Claimant was represented by counsel and a
vocational expert ("VE") appeared and testified.
(R. 44-83). On May 15, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision
denying Claimant's request for benefits. (R. 23-43). On
August 18, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Claimant's
request for review. (R. 1-6). Claimant then filed a complaint
in this court seeking review of the now-final administrative
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of judicial review of a final agency decision regarding
disability benefits under the Social Security Act
("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq., is
limited to determining whether substantial evidence supports
the Commissioner's factual findings and whether the
decision was reached through the application of the correct
legal standards. See Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514,
517 (4th Cir. 1987). "The findings of the Commissioner
... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence,
shall be conclusive . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence is "evidence which a reasoning mind
would accept as sufficient to support a particular
conclusion." Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640,
642 (4th Cir. 1966). While substantial evidence is not a
"large or considerable amount of evidence, "
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988), it is
"more than a mere scintilla . . . and somewhat less than
a preponderance." Laws, 368 F.2d at 642.
"In reviewing for substantial evidence, [the court
should not] undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make
credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for
that of the [Commissioner]." Mastro v. Apfel,
270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996), superseded
by regulation on other grounds, 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(d)(2)). Rather, in conducting the "substantial
evidence" inquiry, the court's review is limited to
whether the ALJ analyzed the relevant evidence and
sufficiently explained his or her findings and rationale in
crediting the evidence. Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v.
Akers, 131 F.3d 438, 439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).
DISABILITY EVALUATION PROCESS
disability determination is based on a five-step sequential
evaluation process as set forth in 20 C.F.R. § §
404.1520, 416.920 under which the ALJ is to evaluate a claim:
The claimant (1) must not be engaged in "substantial
gainful activity, " i.e., currently working; and (2)
must have a "severe" impairment that (3) meets or
exceeds [in severity] the "listings" of specified
impairments, or is otherwise incapacitating to the extent
that the claimant does not possess the residual functional
capacity to (4) perform . . . past work or (5) any other
Albright v. Comm'r of the SSA, 174 F.3d 473, 475
n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). "If an applicant's claim fails
at any step of the process, the ALJ need not advance to the
subsequent steps." Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d
1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). The burden of
proof and production during the first four steps of the
inquiry rests on the claimant. Id. At the fifth
step, the burden shifts to the ALJ to show that other work
exists in the national economy which the claimant can
assessing the severity of mental impairments, the ALJ must do
so in accordance with the "special technique"
described in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.152Oa(b)-(c) and
416.920a(b)-(c). This regulatory scheme identifies four broad
functional areas in which the ALJ rates the degree of
functional limitation resulting from a claimant's mental
impairment(s): activities of daily living; social
functioning; concentration, persistence or pace; and episodes
of decompensation. Id. §§ 4O4.l52Oa(c)(3),
4l6.92Oa(c)(3). The ALJ is required to incorporate into his
written decision pertinent findings and conclusions based on
the "special technique." Id. §§
case, Claimant alleges the following errors by the ALJ: (1)
failure to find that Claimant's degenerative disc disease
of the lumbar spine met Listing 1.04; (2) failure to find
that the medical source statement and opinions contained
therein were entitled to great weight; (3) improper
assessment of Claimant's residual functional capacity
("RFC"); (4) failure to properly assess
Claimant's symptoms and credibility; (5) failure to
accurately set forth all of Claimant's physical and
mental limitations in the hypothetical posed to the VE; and
(6) failure to find Claimant disabled as a result of her
mental and physical impairments. Pl.'s Mem. [DE-20] at 7-
the above-described sequential evaluation process, the ALJ
found Claimant "not disabled" as defined in the
Act. At step one, the ALJ found Claimant had not engaged in
substantial gainful employment since the alleged onset date.
(R. 28). Next, the ALJ determined Claimant had the following
severe impairments: diabetes mellitus; diabetic neuropathy;
degenerative disc disease; and obesity. Id. However,
at step three, the ALJ concluded these impairments were not
severe enough, either individually or in combination, to meet
or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 29).
to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Claimant's
RFC, finding Claimant had the ability to perform light
with postural and environmental restrictions as follows:
The claimant can sit for 15 minutes at one time and then she
needs to walk around for 15 minutes. She can sit for two
hours total in an eight-hour workday. She can walk or stand
for an hour at one time and for up to six hours total in an
eight-hour workday. She can lift 20 pounds occasionally and
she can lift 10 pounds frequently. She can occasionally stoop
and crouch. She is not able to climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She
can have occasional exposure to hazards.
four, the ALJ concluded Claimant did not have the RFC to
perform the requirements of her past relevant work as a
certified nurse assistant and watch guard. (R. 35).
Nonetheless, at step five, upon considering Claimant's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined
there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that Claimant can perform.- (R. 36).
ALJ's finding that Claimant's impairments did not
meet Listing 1.04 is ...