United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION
E. Gates, Umted States Magistrate Judge
action, plaintiff Terry Lamont Riggins ("plaintiff or,
in context, "claimant") challenges the final
decision of defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security
Nancy A. Berryhill ("Commissioner") denying his
applications for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental
Security Income ("SSI") on the grounds that he is
not disabled. The case is before the court on the
parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings. D.E. 15,
18. Both filed memoranda in support of their respective
motions. D.E. 16, 19. The motions were referred to the
undersigned magistrate judge for a memorandum and
recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).
See 19 July 2017 Text Ord. For the reasons set forth
below, it will be recommended that plaintiffs motion be
allowed, the Commissioner's motion be denied, and this
case be remanded.
filed applications for DIB and SSI on 8 May 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of 3 January 2013. Transcript of
Proceedings ("Tr.") 28. The applications were
denied initially and upon reconsideration, and a request for
a hearing was timely filed. Tr. 28. On 20 August 2015, a
hearing was held before an administrative law judge
("ALJ"), at which plaintiff, represented by
counsel, and a vocational expert testified. Tr. 43-68. The
ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiffs claims on 16
September 2015. Tr. 28-37. Plaintiff requested review by the
Appeals Council. See Tr. 20-24. On 3 October 2016,
it denied the request. Tr. 1.
time, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of
the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
On 7 December 2016, plaintiff commenced this proceeding for
judicial review of the ALJ's decision, pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) (DIB) and 1383(c)(3) (SSI).
See In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") Mot. (D.E.
1); Order Allowing IFP Mot. (D.E. 4); Compl. (D.E. 5).
Standards for Disability
Social Security Act ("Act") defines disability as
the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A); see 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A);
Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995).
"An individual shall be determined to be under a
disability only if his physical or mental impairment or
impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable
to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); see 42
U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The Act defines a physical or
mental impairment as "an impairment that results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).
disability regulations under the Act
("Regulations") provide a five-step analysis that
the ALJ must follow when determining whether a claimant is
To summarize, the ALJ asks at step one whether the claimant
has been working; at step two, whether the claimant's
medical impairments meet the [Regulations' severity and
duration requirements; at step three, whether the medical
impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in the
[Regulations; at step four, whether the claimant can perform
her past work given the limitations caused by her medical
impairments; and at step five, whether the claimant can
perform other work.
The first four steps create a series of hurdles for claimants
to meet. If the ALJ finds that the claimant has been working
(step one) or that the claimant's medical impairments do
not meet the severity and duration requirements of the
[Regulations (step two), the process ends with a finding of
"not disabled." At step three, the ALJ either finds
that the claimant is disabled because her impairments match a
listed impairment [i.e., a listing in 20 C.F.R. pt.
404, subpt. P, app. 1 ("the Listings")] or
continues the analysis. The ALJ cannot deny benefits at this
If the first three steps do not lead to a conclusive
determination, the ALJ then assesses the claimant's
residual functional capacity ["RFC"], which is
"the most" the claimant "can still do
despite" physical and mental limitations that affect her
ability to work. [20 C.F.R.] § 416.945(a)(1). To make
this assessment, the ALJ must "consider all of [the
claimant's] medically determinable impairments of which
[the ALJ is] aware, " including those not labeled severe
at step two. Id. § 416.945(a)(2).
The ALJ then moves on to step four, where the ALJ can find
the claimant not disabled because she is able to perform her
past work. Or, if the exertion required for the
claimant's past work exceeds her [RFC], the ALJ goes on
to step five.
At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove,
by a preponderance of the evidence, that the claimant can
perform other work that "exists in significant numbers
in the national economy, " considering the
claimant's [RFC], age, education, and work experience.
Id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v); 416.960(c)(2);
416.1429. The Commissioner typically offers
this evidence through the testimony of a vocational expert
responding to a hypothetical that incorporates the
claimant's limitations. If the Commissioner meets her
burden, the ALJ finds the claimant not disabled and denies
the application for benefits.
Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir.
found that plaintiff was 31 years old on the alleged onset
date of disability and 34 years old on the date of the
hearing. See Tr. 35 ¶ 7; 47. The ALJ found that
plaintiff has at least a high school education (Tr. 36 ¶
8) and that his past relevant work included employment as a
the five-step analysis of 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a)(4), the ALJ found at step one
that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the date of alleged onset of disability, 3
January 2013. Tr. 30 ¶ 2. At step two, the ALJ found
that plaintiff had the following medically determinable
impairments that were severe within the meaning of the
Regulations: "a history of gunshot wound, degenerative
scoliosis, and a history of ventral incisional hernia with
repair." Tr. 30 ¶ 3. At step three, the ALJ found
that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals any of the
Listings. Tr. 31 ¶ 4.
next determined that plaintiff had the RFC to perform a
sedentary work with limitations:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
the claimant has the [RFC] to perform a range of sedentary
work activity as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a). The claimant is capable of lifting
and/or carrying 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10
pounds frequently. He is capable of standing and/or walking
at least 2 hours in an 8-hour workday and sitting about 6
hours in an 8-hour work day. He can never climb ladders,
ropes, and scaffolds, and can occasionally ...