United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION
B. Jones, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the court on the motion of Claimant Steve
Adams ("Claimant") for summary judgment pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 [DE-11] and the Defendant's motion for
judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c)
[DE-15]. Claimant filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial review of
the denial of his application for a period of disability and
Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). 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 Summary Judgment be denied, Defendant's Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings be allowed, and the final decision
of the Commissioner be upheld.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
protectively filed an application for a period of disability
and DIB on August 7, 2012, alleging disability beginning
August 6, 2006. (R. 155-56). The claim was denied initially
.%, . and upon reconsideration. (R. 73-93). A hearing before
the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was held on
May 14, 2015, at which Claimant was represented by counsel,
and a vocational expert . ("VE") appeared and
testified. (R. 35-72). On July 24, 2015, the ALJ issued a
decision denying Claimant's request for benefits. (R.
8-19). On October 27, 2016, the Appeals Council denied
Claimant's request for review. (R. 1-7). Claimant then
filed a complaint in this court seeking review of the
now-final administrative decision.
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
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 work.
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. § 404.1520a(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. § 404.1520a(c)(3). The ALJ
is required to incorporate into his written decision
pertinent findings and conclusions based on the "special
technique." Id. § 404.1520a(e)(3).
case, Claimant alleges the following error by the ALJ:
improper assessment of Claimant's residual functional
capacity ("RFC"). PL's Mem. [DE-12] at 6.
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. 13). Next, the ALJ determined Claimant had the following
severe impairments: left knee degenerative joint disease with
history of multiple surgeries; bicep tendinitis; left
shoulder impingement; and chronic pulmonary disease
("COPD"). (R. 14). However, at step three, the ALJ
concluded these impairments were not severe enough, either