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Holbrook v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

January 9, 2018

HANNAH R. HOLBROOK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Robert J. Conrad, Jr. United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 11), and Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 12), and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 14), and Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 15).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Hannah R. Holbrook (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of Defendant Social Security Commissioner's (“Defendant” or “Commissioner”) denial of her social security claim. (Doc. No. 1). On April 14, 2012, Plaintiff filed her 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. 10 to 10-8: Administrative Record (“Tr.”) at 142). In her application, Plaintiff alleged an inability to work due to disabling conditions beginning on April 10, 2012. (Id. at 115). Plaintiff's application was denied initially on September 4, 2012 and again upon reconsideration on February 8, 2013. (Id.). A hearing was then held on November 5, 2013 before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Jane A. Crawford where Plaintiff's mother and a vocational expert provided testimony. (Id. at 20-75, 115). On March 27, 2015, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claims and the Appeals Council thereafter denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final determination of Defendant. (Id. at 1-7, 112-35).

         B. Factual Background

         The 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 April 14, 2012, the date of her application, and March 27, 2015, the date of the ALJ's decision.[1] (Id. at 115). To establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden of proving that he was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). The ALJ ultimately concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability at any point in the relevant timeframe. (Tr. at 128-29).

         The 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, not disabled;
(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 yes, disabled;
(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 128-29).

         To begin with, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since April 14, 2012, the date of her application. (Id. at 117). At the second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “polycystic ovarian syndrome; bipolar disorder; general anxiety disorder; depression; and bulimia nervosa.” (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 118).

         Next, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's RFC and found that he retained the capacity to perform:

a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant can perform simple, routine tasks in a job that does not require assembly line pace or adherence to strict production quotas; she can maintain frequent contact with coworkers and supervisors and occasional, superficial contact with the public; and the claimant cannot work in environments where she would be working with food.

(Id. at 120). In making her finding, the ALJ specifically stated that she “considered all symptoms and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence.” (Id.). The ALJ further opined that he ‚Äúconsidered opinion evidence in accordance with the requirements of 20 CFR 404.1527 ...


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