United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division
LORETHA S. WARD, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION
KIMBERLY A. SWANK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the court on the parties' cross motions
for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Loretha S. Ward
(“Plaintiff”) filed this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the denial of
her application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). The time for filing responsive briefs
has expired, and the pending motions are ripe for
adjudication. Having carefully reviewed the administrative
record and the motions and memoranda submitted by the
parties, the undersigned recommends that Plaintiff's
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE #22] be granted,
Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE #26]
be denied, and the Commissioner's decision be remanded
for further proceedings.
OF THE CASE
applied for SSI on July 15, 2013, with an alleged onset date
of July 14, 2013. (R. 13, 155.) The application was denied
initially and upon reconsideration, and a request for hearing
was filed. (R. 13, 74, 91, 110.) A video hearing was held on
April 27, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Gary Brockington, who issued an
unfavorable ruling on May 28, 2015. (R. 13, 26.) The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October
21, 2016. (R. 1.) Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the
final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
Standard of Review
scope of judicial review of a final agency decision denying
disability benefits is limited to determining whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's factual
findings and whether the decision was reached through the
application of the correct legal standards. See Coffman
v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). Substantial
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; [i]t
consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be
somewhat less than a preponderance.” Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), and
Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir.
1966)) (citations omitted) (alteration in original).
“In reviewing for substantial evidence, [the court
should not] undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make
credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for
that of the [Commissioner].” Mastro v. Apfel,
270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Craig, 76
F.3d at 589) (first and second alterations in original).
Rather, in conducting the “substantial evidence”
inquiry, the court determines whether the Commissioner has
considered all relevant evidence and sufficiently explained
the weight accorded to the evidence. Sterling Smokeless
Coal Co. v. Akers, 131 F.3d 438, 439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).
making a disability determination, the Commissioner utilizes
a five-step evaluation process. The Commissioner asks,
sequentially, whether the claimant: (1) is engaged in
substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment;
(3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements
of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
App. 1; (4) can perform the requirements of past work; and,
if not, (5) based on the claimant's age, work experience,
and residual functional capacity can adjust to other work
that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4); Albright v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2
(4th Cir. 1999). The burden of proof and production during
the first four steps of the inquiry rests on the claimant.
Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th. Cir. 1995).
At the fifth step, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
show that other work exists in the national economy that the
claimant can perform. (Id.)
the five-step, sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found
Plaintiff “not disabled” as defined in the Social
Security Act. At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful employment since July 15,
2013, the application date. (R. 15.) Next, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
“degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine;
essential hypertension; history of possible transient
ischemic attack; asthma; obesity; depression; anxiety
disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and
borderline intellectual functioning (BIF).”
(Id.) The ALJ also found Plaintiff's vertigo,
hyperlipidemia, and history of alcohol abuse to be non-severe
impairments. (R. 15-16.)
three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's impairments
were not severe enough, either individually or in
combination, to meet or medically equal one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R.
16-19.) The ALJ analyzed Listings 1.04, 4.00 and related,
3.00 and related, 12.02, 12.04, 12.05, and 12.06.
to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and found
that Plaintiff had
the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as
defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c) except she can have occasional
exposure to concentrated levels of pulmonary irritants such
as dust, odors, fumes, and gases and to poorly ventilated
areas and she can have little, if any, exposure to
unprotected heights, hazardous machinery or moving mechanical
parts. Her work is limited to simple, routine and repetitive
tasks but not at a production rate pace; simple work ...