United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Tracie Wise's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) filed on September
18, 2017, and Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social
Security Nancy A. Berryhill's
(“Commissioner”) Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. No. 13) filed on November 17, 2017. Plaintiff, through
counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable
administrative decision on her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and 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. 13).
filed an application for disability benefits under Title II
and XVI on October 1, 2013, alleging disability (Tr. 20, 71).
After her application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration (Tr. 121, 129), Plaintiff requested a hearing
(Tr. 138). After a hearing on December 15, 2015, the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 17, 32, 39).
Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council was
denied on January 27, 2017. (Tr. 1).
found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date of October 1, 2013 and
had severe impairments of anxiety disorder with PTSD features
and panic disorder with agoraphobia. (Tr. 22). 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. 23). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full
range of work at all exertional levels, see 20
C.F.R. § 416.967, with the following nonexternal
[Plaintiff is] limited to simple, routine, one and two-steps
tasks. The claimant should have no public interaction,
limited interaction with co-workers, and occasional
(Tr. 24). The vocational expert (“VE”) testified
that subject to the limitations in the RFC, Plaintiff could
not perform any of her past relevant work. (Tr. 30). However,
in response to a hypothetical that factored in
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the
VE testified that Plaintiff could perform jobs in the
national economy and produced a list of a significant number
of jobs that Plaintiff could perform with her limitations
(Tr. 31). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not
disabled, as defined under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 32).
has exhausted all administrative remedies and now appeals
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff claims that
the ALJ's decision should be reversed because the
ALJ's decision (1) did not include a limitation in the
RFC for concentration, persistence, and pace or explain the
omission and (2) improperly evaluated some medical opinion
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. §§ ...