United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION
KIMBERLY A. SWANK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the court on the parties' cross motions
for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Connell Sutton
(“Plaintiff”) filed this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the denial of
his application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). 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, the undersigned recommends that Plaintiff's
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE #15] be denied,
Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE #17]
be granted, and the Commissioner's decision be upheld.
OF THE CASE
applied for SSI on June 18, 2013, with an alleged onset date
of June 1, 2012. (R. 19, 164-69.) The application was denied
initially and upon reconsideration, and a request for hearing
was filed. (R. 80, 97, 114-16.) A hearing was held on April
28, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Larry A. Miller, who issued an unfavorable ruling on July 6,
2015. (R. 19, 29.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review on October 21, 2016. (R. 6.) Plaintiff
seeks judicial review of the final administrative decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Standard of Review
scope of judicial review of a final agency decision denying
disability benefits 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). Substantial
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; [i]t
consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be
somewhat less than a preponderance.” Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), and
Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir.
1966)) (citations omitted) (alteration in original).
“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, 76
F.3d at 589) (first and second alterations in original).
Rather, in conducting the “substantial evidence”
inquiry, the court determines whether the Commissioner has
considered all relevant evidence and sufficiently explained
the weight accorded to the evidence. Sterling Smokeless
Coal Co. v. Akers, 131 F.3d 438, 439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).
making a disability determination, the Commissioner utilizes
a five-step evaluation process. The Commissioner asks,
sequentially, whether the claimant: (1) is engaged in
substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment;
(3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements
of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
App. 1; (4) can perform the requirements of past work; and,
if not, (5) based on the claimant's age, work experience,
and residual functional capacity can adjust to other work
that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4); Albright v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2
(4th Cir. 1999). The burden of proof and production during
the first four steps of the inquiry rests on the claimant.
Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th. Cir. 1995).
At the fifth step, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
show that other work exists in the national economy that the
claimant can perform. (Id.)
the five-step, sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found
Plaintiff “not disabled” as defined in the Social
Security Act. At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful employment since June 18,
2013, the application date. (R. 21.) Next, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
“diabetes mellitus, neuropathy, hypertension, obesity,
osteoarthritis, major depressive disorder and schizoaffective
three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's 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.
21.) The ALJ analyzed Listings 1.02, 1.04, 4.00, 12.03, and
12.04. (R. 21-22.)
to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and found
that Plaintiff had
the residual functional capacity to perform light work with
lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently. [Plaintiff] is able to sit six
hours in an eight-hour day and stand and walk six hours in an
eight-hour day as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b). [Plaintiff]
could occasionally climb, stoop, crouch and crawl.
[Plaintiff] must avoid hazards, such as unprotected heights
and moving machinery. [Plaintiff] can perform simple, routine
and repetitive tasks[, ] meaning that he can apply
commonsense understanding to carry out instructions furnished
in written, oral, or diagrammatic form and deal with problems
involving several concrete variables in or from standardized
situations. He is able to interact occasionally with
co-workers and supervisors, but not the public. [Plaintiff]
is unable to perform production rate work. He is unable to
work at jobs requiring complex decision making, constant
change or dealing with crises.
(R. 23.) In making this assessment, the ALJ found
Plaintiff's statements about the severity of his symptoms
“not entirely credible.” (R. 27.) At step four,
the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not able to perform his past
relevant work as a machine operator or laborer.
(Id.) At step five, the ALJ concluded, based on
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC,
that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that Plaintiff could ...