United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
CHARLES D. WATTS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
D. WHITNEY, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Charles D.
Watts's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) filed
on April 25, 2017, and Defendant Acting Commissioner of
Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's
(“Commissioner”) Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. No. 15) filed on July 26, 2017. Plaintiff, through
counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable
administrative decision on his application for Supplemental
Social Security Income (“SSI”).
reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative
record, and applicable authority, and for the reasons set
forth below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) and GRANTS the
Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 15).
filed an application for Title XVI disability benefits on
July 23, 2012, alleging disability (Tr. 272). After his
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration
(Tr. 161, 169), Plaintiff requested a hearing (Tr. 174). At
the hearing, the ALJ issued a favorable decision, which was
vacated and remanded by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 136, 147).
After the second hearing on March 14, 2016, the ALJ issued a
decision denying Plaintiff's application on April 19,
2016. (Tr. 12). Plaintiff's request for review by the
Appeals Council was denied on October 19, 2016. (Tr. 2).
determined Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 35). The ALJ
found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since his alleged onset date and that he had the
following severe impairments: “a history of Crohn's
disease; a history of migraine headaches; a history of lower
left extremity fracture with surgical repair of the left
lower, extremity, including the left ankle; a history of
bipolar disorder and depression.” (Tr. 18). The ALJ
determined that none of these impairments nor any combination
of the impairments meet or medically equal a per se disabled
medical listing under 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.
(Tr. 20). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium
work as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(c),
416.967(c) with the following limitations:
[Plaintiff] is limited to only occasionally climbing of
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and he is further limited to
jobs performing the simple, routine, repetitive tasks of
unskilled work, performed at a non-production pace in a
stable environment, with only occasional interpersonal
(Tr. 22). In response to a hypothetical that factored in the
above limitations, the vocational expert (“VE”)
testified that Plaintiff could perform jobs in the national
economy (Tr. 34). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was
not disabled, as defined under the Social Security Act. (Tr.
has exhausted all administrative remedies and now appeals
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3).
Plaintiff claims that the ALJ's decision should be
reversed because the ALJ failed to provide specified work
related mental functions in the RFC and improperly rejected
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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 a 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). Courts 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,
” courts 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 F.
App'x 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. §§ ...