United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff John Dow Hunter's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) filed on October 2,
2017, and Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security
Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Commissioner”) Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13) filed on November 29,
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 GRANTS in part and DENIES in part
Plaintiff's Motion For Summary Judgment; DENIES
Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment; and REMANDS the
filed an application for disability benefits under Title XVI
on June 20, 2013, alleging disability (Tr. 26, 122). After
his application was denied initially and upon reconsideration
(Tr. 153, 157), Plaintiff requested a hearing (Tr. 167). A
hearing was held on December 4, 2015. (Tr. 26, 178). On
January 7, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr.
23). Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals
Council was denied on February 2, 2017. (Tr. 1).
found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date of June 20, 2013 and
had severe impairments of degenerative disc disease,
seizures, depression, anxiety, borderline intellectual
functioning, and substance addition disorder (Tr. 28). 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. 29). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform
medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), with
the following limitations:
The claimant is limited to occasional exposure to unprotected
heights and moving mechanical parts. The claimant can never
operate a motor vehicle. The claimant is limited to
performing simple, routine tasks. The claimant is limited to
frequent contact with supervisors, co-workers, and the
general public. The claimant is limited to making simple,
(Tr. 30-31). The vocational expert (“VE”)
testified that an individual with Plaintiff's RFC could
perform his past relevant work as a doffer, DOT No.
689.686-022. (Tr. 34, 85-87). Additionally, 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 number of jobs that Plaintiff could perform with
his limitations (Tr. 35). Thus, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled, as defined under the Social
Security Act. (Tr. 35-36).
has exhausted all administrative remedies and now appeals
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Plaintiff claims that the ALJ's decision should be
reversed because the ALJ's decision (1) did not give a
complete function-by-function analysis of Plaintiff's
mental RFC and (2) did not explain why limitations were not
included in the RFC.
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. §§ ...