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Bradley v. Berryhill

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

February 16, 2018

Arleen Bradley, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         Plaintiff Arleen Bradley instituted this action to challenge the denial of her application for social security income. Bradley claims that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Mattie Harvin-Woode erred in failing to incorporate fully her non-exertional limitations into the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination. Both Bradley 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. 21, 24.

         After reviewing the parties' arguments, the court has determined that ALJ Harvin-Woode reached the appropriate decision. Substantial evidence supports the RFC determination which sufficiently reflects Bradley's non-exertional limitations. The undersigned magistrate thus judge recommends that the court deny Bradley's motion, grant Berryhill's motion, and affirm the Commissioner's decision.[2]

         I. Background

         In August 2014, Bradley filed applications for disability benefits and supplemental security income. In both applications, Bradley alleged a disability that began in August 2013. After her claims were denied at the initial level and upon reconsideration, Bradley appeared before ALJ Harvin-Woode for a hearing to determine whether she was entitled to benefits. ALJ Harvin-Woode determined Bradley was not entitled to benefits because she was not disabled. Tr. at 1042-1053.

         ALJ Harvin-Woode found that Bradley had several severe impairments: coronary artery disease, status post double bypass surgery, peripheral vascular disease, obesity, chronic cervical strain, chronic thoracolumbar strain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), tobacco use disorder, bipolar disorder, polysubstance abuse disorder in remission, generalized anxiety disorder, and personality disorder. Tr. at 1044. ALJ Harvin-Woode found that Bradley's impairments, either alone or in combination, did not meet or equal a Listing impairment. Tr. at 1045.

         ALJ Harvin-Woode then determined that Bradley had the RFC to perform a range of sedentary work with additional limitations. Tr. at 1047. Bradley requires the option to stand every 45 minutes for one to two minutes, but can continue working while standing. Id. She must avoid moderate exposure to hazards such as heights and moving machinery, as well as exposure to fumes, odors, gases, dusts, etc. Id. Bradley can perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks. Id. Finally, she can tolerate occasional interactions with coworkers and occasional but superficial interactions with the general public. Id.

         ALJ Harvin-Woode concluded that Bradley could not perform her past relevant work as a commercial cleaning manager, assistant maintenance supervisor, assistant manager, fast food cook, or sales attendant. Tr. at 1051. But ALJ Harvin-Woode determined that, considering her age, education, work experience, and RFC, other jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Bradley could perform. Id. These include charge account clerk, addresser, and ticket checker. Id. Thus, ALJ Harvin-Woode found that Bradley was not disabled. Tr. at 1053.

         After unsuccessfully seeking review by the Appeals Council, Bradley 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 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. But 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 ...

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