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Young v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division

January 10, 2018

Karen Jacobs Young, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          Robert T. Numbers, II United States Magistrate Judge

          Plaintiff Karen Jacobs Young instituted this action on October 11, 2016, to challenge the denial of her application for social security income. Young claims that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Ronald Sweeda erred in (1) evaluating her allegations of pain, and (2) weighing the medical opinion evidence. Both Young and Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, have filed motions seeking a judgment on the pleadings in their favor. D.E. 24, 26.

         After reviewing the parties' arguments, the court has determined that ALJ Sweeda reached the appropriate decision. ALJ Sweeda appropriately considered Young's statements of pain and offered reasons for declining to fully credit her allegations. Additionally, ALJ Sweeda's evaluation of the medical opinion evidence is supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the court denies Young's motion, grants Berryhill's motion, and affirms the Commissioner's decision.[2]

         I. Background

         On May 9, 2012, Young protectively filed an application for disability benefits alleging a disability that began on September 12, 2012. After her claim was denied at the initial level and upon reconsideration, Young appeared before ALJ Sweeda for a hearing to determine whether she was entitled to benefits. ALJ Sweeda determined Young was not entitled to benefits because she was not disabled. Tr. at 17-29.

         ALJ Sweeda found that Young had several severe impairments: asthma, obesity, history of cerebrovascular accident (“CVA”), fibromyalgia, and depression. Tr. at 19. ALJ Sweeda found that Young's impairments, either alone or in combination, did not meet or equal a Listing impairment. Tr. at 21.

         ALJ Sweeda then determined that Young had the RFC to perform a range of light work with additional limitations. Tr. at 22. She must avoid any exposure to temperature extremes, high humidity, concentrated pulmonary irritants, or workplace hazards. Tr. at 22-23. Additionally, Young is capable of simple, repetitive tasks in a work environment where fast-paced production is not required. Id.

         ALJ Sweeda concluded that Young was incapable of performing her past relevant work as a child support worker. Tr. at 28. But ALJ Sweeda determined that, considering Young's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Young was capable of performing. Id. These include: paper finishing machine operator, bagger, and hand packer/inspector. Tr. at 28-29. Thus, ALJ Sweeda found that Young was not disabled. Tr. at 29.

         After unsuccessfully seeking review by the Appeals Council, Young commenced this action in October 2016. D.E. 6.

         II. Analysis

         A. Standard for Review of the Acting Commissioner's Final Decision

         When a social security claimant appeals a final decision of the Commissioner, the district court's review is limited to determining whether, based on the entire administrative record, there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's findings. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Substantial evidence is defined as “evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion.” Shively v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984) (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). The court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996).

         B. Standard for Evaluating Disability

         In making a disability determination, the ALJ engages in a five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650 (4th Cir. 2005). The ALJ must consider the factors in order. At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the claim is denied. At step two, the claim is denied if the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments significantly limiting him or her from performing basic work activities. At step three, the claimant's impairment is compared to those in the Listing of Impairments. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. If the impairment is listed in the Listing of Impairments or if it is equivalent to a listed impairment, disability is conclusively presumed. However, if the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the ALJ assesses the claimant's RFC to determine, at step four, whether he can perform his past work despite his impairments. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the analysis moves on to step five: establishing whether the claimant, based on his age, work experience, and RFC can perform other substantial gainful work. The burden of proof is on the claimant for the first four steps of this inquiry, but shifts to the Commissioner at the fifth step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995).

         C. ...

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