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Williams v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

February 23, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Joe L. Webster United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Joseph Williams brought this action to obtain review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security[1] denying his claim for social security disability benefits. The Court has before it the certified administrative record and cross-motions for judgment.


         Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits in June of 2012, alleging a disability onset date of December 2, 2011. (Tr. 159-62.)[2] The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Id. at 99-115.) Plaintiff had a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who determined that he was not disabled. (Id. at 32-65.) The Appeals Council denied a request for review, making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of review. (Id. at 1-7.)


         The scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is specific and narrow. Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986). Review is limited to determining if there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Or. 1992); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In reviewing for substantial evidence, the Court does not re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Craig v. Chafer, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). The issue, then, is not whether Plaintiff is disabled but whether the Commissioner's finding that he is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and based on a correct application of the law. Id.


         The ALJ followed the well-established sequential analysis to ascertain whether the claimant is disabled, which is set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. See Albright v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). The ALJ determined at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of December 2, 2011. (Tr. 34.) The ALJ next found the following severe impairments at step two: bilateral shoulder rotator cuff repair (right 2009 and left 2013), sleep apnea, depression, and borderline intellectual functioning. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to, one listed in Appendix 1. (Id.) The ALJ next set forth Plaintiffs Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") and determined that he

can lift 20 pounds occasionally; 10 pounds frequently, sit, stand and walk up to six hours in an eight-hour workday, and occasionally work overhead with either upper extremity. He can perform simple, routine, repetitive work (3 to 4 step operation[s] without a quota requirement); and frequent exposure to public (not service industry).

(Id. at 36.) At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was able to perform his past relevant work (id. at 40) and then found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act (id).


         A. The ALJ's Step Four Analysis Is Well-Supported.

         Plaintiff asserts that "the ALJ failed to fulfill his duty, under Social Security Ruling (SSR) 82-62, to fully question the claimant and develop the record regarding the physical and mental demands of his past relevant work." (Docket Entry 18 at 6.) Defendant disagrees. (Docket Entry 20 at 8-16.) Having reviewed both briefs and the entire record, the Court agrees with Defendant that this issue lacks merit.

         More specifically, Plaintiff has the burden through the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process and at the fourth step he must establish that he has an impairment which prevents him from performing his past relevant work. See Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264 (4th Cir. 1981). The Social Security Regulations address the proper procedure for an ALJ to follow at step four. SSR 82-62 provides in pertinent part that:

In finding that an individual has the capacity to perform a past relevant job, the determination or decision must contain among the findings the following specific findings of fact:

1. A finding of fact as to the individual's RFC.

2. A finding of fact as to the physical and mental demands of the past job/occupation.

3. A finding of fact that the ...

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