United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
WILLIAM K. GORE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the court on plaintiffs motion for judgment
on the pleadings [D.E. 14] and defendant's motion seeking
remand to the Social Security Administration [D.E. 16]. On
December 21, 2017, the court held a hearing on the matter in
Raleigh, North Carolina [D.E. 21]. For the reasons discussed
below, plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings [D.E.
14] is GRANTED, defendant's motion [D.E. 16] is DENIED,
the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED, and the case is
REMANDED to the Commissioner for an award of benefits.
November 11, 2012, plaintiff filed applications for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act ("Act") and supplemental security
income benefits under Title XVI of the Act. [Tr. 92].
Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of February 1,
2012. [Tr. 23]. Plaintiffs applications were denied initially
and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 21].
February 13, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") held a video hearing to consider plaintiff
s claims de novo, [Tr. 37-67]. On March 30, 2013,
the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Act. [Tr. 21-32].
Plaintiff appealed and, on September 8, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied review, thereby rendering the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. [Tr. 1-13].
On November 9, 2016, plaintiff filed a complaint in this
court seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See [D.E. 5].
district court's review of the Commissioner's final
decision is limited to determining whether the correct legal
standard was applied and 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 "such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion." Johnson v.
Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam)
(internal quotation and citation omitted).
the Social Security Act ("Act"), an individual is
disabled if he is unable "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 [twelve] months." 42
U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). Further:
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 line of substantial
gainful work ....
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
engages in a sequential five-step evaluation process to make
an initial disability determination. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a); see Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653. The
burden of proof is on the claimant for the first four steps
of this inquiry, but shifts to the Commissioner at the fifth
step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir.
1995). If a decision regarding the claimant's disability
can be made at any step of the process, the ALJ's inquiry
ceases. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
evaluating adults, the ALJ denies the claim at step one if
the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). At step two, the
ALJ denies the claim if the claimant does not have a severe
impairment or combination of impairments significantly
limiting him from performing basic work activities.
Id. At step three, the ALJ compares the
claimant's impairment to those in the Listing of
Impairments. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App.
1. If the impairment is listed, or equivalent to a listed
impairment, disability is conclusively presumed without
considering the claimant's age, education, and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). However, if the
impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the
ALJ then makes a residual functional capacity
("RFC") finding. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(e).
making an RFC finding, the ALJ's considers both severe
and non-severe impairments, and any combination thereof, and
takes into account both objective medical evidence as well as
subjective complaints of pain and limitations. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1545(e). The ALJ further considers . the
claimant's ability to meet the physical, mental, sensory,
and other requirements of accomplishing work. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1545(a)(4). An RFC finding is meant to reflect the
most that a claimant can do, despite his limitations. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). Moreover, an RFC finding should
reflect the claimant's ability to perform sustained
work-related activities in a work setting on regular and
continuing basis, meaning eight-hours per day, five days per
week. See SSR 96-8p; Hines v. Barnhart, 453
F.3d 559, 562 (4th Cir. 2006).
four, the ALJ considers a claimant's RFC to determine
whether he can perform past relevant work ("PRW")
despite his impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). If
not, the ALJ proceeds to step five of the analysis:
establishing whether the claimant-based on his RFC, age,
education, and work experience-can make an adjustment to
perform other work. Id. If the ...