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Taylor v. Berryhill

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

January 10, 2018

Richard Leslie Taylor, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION

          Robert T. Numbers, II United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Richard Leslie Taylor, Jr., instituted this action on February 15, 2017, to challenge the denial of his application for social security income. Taylor claims that Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Katherine D. Wisz erred in (1) finding that he had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of light work and thereby misapplying the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, and (2) failing to include a limitation for Taylor's use of an assistive device. Both Taylor 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. 15, 17

         After reviewing the parties' arguments, the court has determined that ALJ Wisz erred in her determination. Although she concluded Taylor's use of a handheld assistive device was not medically necessary, evidence from one provider appears to contradict this conclusion. As it is unclear from the record whether Taylor required a cane to ambulate, it is equally uncertain whether the RFC determination is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends that the court grant Taylor's motion for judgment on the pleadings (D.E. 15), deny Berryhill's motion for judgment on the pleadings (D.E. 17), and remand this matter to the Commissioner for further consideration.[2]

         I. Background

         On June 27, 2013, Taylor protectively filed an application for disability benefits, alleging a disability that began on August 29, 2013. After his claim was denied at the initial level and upon reconsideration, Taylor appeared before ALJ Wisz for a hearing to determine whether he was entitled to benefits. ALJ Wisz determined Taylor was not entitled to benefits because he was not disabled. Tr. at 19-31.

         ALJ Wisz found that Taylor had several severe impairments: hypertension, degenerative spurring of the right shoulder humeral head, obstructive sleep apnea, degenerative joint disease in both knees resulting in left knee replacement, and obesity. Tr. at 21.

         ALJ Wisz found that Taylor's impairments, either alone or in combination, did not meet or equal a Listing impairment. Tr. at 22.

         ALJ Wisz then determined that Taylor had the RFC to perform a range of light work with additional limitations. Tr. at 23. He can frequently, but not constantly, perform reaching, feeling, handling, and grasping with his right upper extremity (his dominant upper extremity). Id. He can occasionally climb ladder, ropes, and scaffolds and he can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Id. Taylor can have occasional exposure to hazards. Id. Finally, he can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions. Id.

         ALJ Wisz concluded that Taylor was incapable of performing his past relevant work as a mechanic. Tr. at 29. But ALJ Wisz determined that, considering Taylor's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he was capable of performing. Tr. at 30. These include: cashier, marker, and parking lot attendant. Id. Thus, ALJ Wisz found that Taylor was not disabled. Tr. at 31.

         After unsuccessfully seeking review by the Appeals Council, Taylor commenced this action in February 2017. D.E. 5.

         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 ...


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