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Thorp v. Berryhill

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

January 9, 2018

KATHLEEN M. THORP, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, 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. 13); Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 14); Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 15); and Defendant's Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 16). The motions are ripe for adjudication.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Kathleen M. Thorp (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Defendant” or “Commissioner”) denial of her social security claim. Plaintiff filed an application under Title II for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on December 17, 2011, alleging an onset date of May 21, 2011. (Doc. Nos. 10 to 10-9: Administrative Record (“Tr.”) at 101). Her applications were denied first on July 9, 2012, and again on October 10, 2012 upon reconsideration. (Id. at 116-19, 125-128). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing on October 17, 2017 (Id. at 129), and an administrative hearing was held by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) for the Social Security Administration on March 31, 2014. (Id. at 33-90).

         Following this hearing, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled because she was capable of performing past relevant work as an administrative assistant. (Id. 28). The Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision on August 26, 2014, but on June 27, 2014, the Appeals Council issued an unfavorable decision. (Id. at 1-8, 9). The findings of the Appeals Council affirmed the conclusion of the ALJ that Plaintiff was not disabled under the SSA, albeit for different reasons. (Id. at 1-8).

         Plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies and this case is now before the Court for disposition of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 13), and Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 14), were filed on July 12, 2016. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 15) and Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 16), were filed on September 12, 2016.

         B. Factual Background

         The question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act (“SSA”). (Tr. 13). To establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden of proving that she was disabled within the meaning of the SSA.[1] Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n5 (1987). Plaintiff alleges that her disability began on December 17, 2011 due to back injury; foraminal stenosis 14-15, 15-S1; coccygectomy; degenerative disc disease; spinal fusion L4-S1; and foraminal stenosis L4-L5, L5-S1. (Tr. 101).

         After reviewing Plaintiff's record and conducting a hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not suffer from a disability as defined in the SSA. (Id. at 28). In reaching his conclusion, the ALJ used the five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration for determining if a person is disabled. 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 ...

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