United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
DENISE W. DARBY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
J. Conrad, Jr. United States District Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 9), and Memorandum in
Support, (Doc. No. 10), and Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 11), and Memorandum in Support,
(Doc. No. 12).
Denise W. Darby (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial
review of Defendant Social Security Commissioner's
(“Defendant” or “Commissioner”)
denial of her social security claim. (Doc. No. 1). On
December 19, 2007, Plaintiff filed her first application for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) under Title II and Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405 et seq.
(Doc. Nos. 8 to 8-14: Administrative Record
(“Tr.”) at 525). In 2008, ALJ denied those claims
and the Appeals Council thereafter denied Plaintiff's
request for review. (Id.). Because Plaintiff did not
seek review before this Court, the 2008 ALJ decision remains
September 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed the application for DIB
and SSI that is at issue before the Court. (Id. at
158). In this second application, Plaintiff alleged an
inability to work due to disabling conditions beginning on
July 31, 2010. (Id.). The Commissioner denied
Plaintiff's application initially on February 4, 2011,
and again after reconsideration on May 9, 2011. (Id.
at 158, 169). Plaintiff then filed a timely written request
for a hearing, which was held on December 10, 2012.
(Id. at 33-77). The ALJ issued a decision on January
14, 2013, denying Plaintiff's claims. (Id. at
16-32). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's
decision on March 13, 2013, which the Appeals Council denied
on June 16, 2014. (Id. at 1-5, 12). Plaintiff then
appealed the Appeals Council's decision but on February
25, 2015, this Court granted a consent motion to remand
Plaintiff's case to the Commissioner for a new hearing.
(Id. at 597-601).
remand, the ALJ once again denied Plaintiff's claim in a
written decision on March 28, 2016. (Id. at 522).
Plaintiff then filed written exceptions to the ALJ's
decision but, on review, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's claim on September 6, 2016, rendering the
ALJ's decision the final determination of Defendant.
(Id. at 512, 520). After this second denial by the
Appeals Council, Plaintiff filed this action requesting
judicial review of Defendant's decision.
question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was under a
“disability” as that term of art is defined for
Social Security purposes, at any time between July 31, 2010,
and the date of his decision on March 28, 2016. (Tr. at 526). To
establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden
of proving that she was disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
146 n.5 (1987). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not
under a disability at any time from time between July 31,
2010 and March 28, 2016. (Tr. at 525-51).
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The five steps are:
(1) whether claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity-if yes, not disabled;
(2) whether claimant has a severe medically determinable
physical or mental impairment, or combination of impairments
that meet the duration requirement in § 404.1509-if no,
(3) whether claimant has an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals one of the
listings in appendix 1 and meets the duration requirement-if
(4) whether claimant has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform his or her past relevant
work-if yes, not disabled; and
(5) whether considering claimant's RFC, age, education,
and work experience he or she can make an adjustment to other
work-if yes, not disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). In this
case, the ALJ determined at the fifth step that Plaintiff was
not disabled. (Tr. at 549-50).
the ALJ first concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in any
substantial gainful activity since July 31, 2010, her alleged
disability onset date. (Id. at 528). At the second
step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: “cervical spondylosis with secondary
cervical radiculopathy and cervical dystonia, history of a
left rotator cuff tear, status post repair, myofascial pain
syndrome, hypertension, obesity, as well as depressive and
schizoaffective disorders.” (Id.). At the
third step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an
“impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.”
(Id. at 528-32). In making this determination, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had mild restriction in activities
of daily living; moderate difficulties in concentration,
persistence, or pace; moderate difficulties in social
functioning; and no repeated episodes of decompensation.
(Id. at 529).
the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's RFC and found that she
retained the capacity to perform:
“light” work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except she is limited to the occasional climbing
of ladders, occasional crawling, frequent but not constant
reaching overhead handling and fingering with the left upper
extremity. Further, [Plaintiff] is to avoid concentrated
exposure to hazards. Finally, [Plaintiff] is limited to
simple routine repetitive tasks in a ...