United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings [D.E. 15, 17]. On December 21,
2017, the court held a hearing on this matter in Raleigh,
North Carolina [D.E. 21]. For the following reasons,
plaintiffs motion [D.E. 15] is GRANTED, defendant's
motion [D.E. 17] is DENIED, the decision of the Commissioner
is REVERSED, and the case is REMANDED to the Commissioner for
an award of benefits.
7, 2013, plaintiff filed an application for supplemental
security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act ("Act") [Tr. 111, 129, 213-18].
Plaintiff alleged a disability of August 13, 2012. [Tr. 13].
Plaintiffs applications were denied initially and upon
16, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held
a hearing to consider plaintiffs claims de novo.
[Tr. 35-78, 157-59]. On September 21, 2015, the ALJ issued a
decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled within the
meaning of the Act. [Tr. 13-30]. Plaintiff appealed and, on
October 11, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review, thereby
rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. [Tr. 1-4]. On December 5, 2016, plaintiff filed
a complaint in this court seeking review of the
Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g). [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 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).
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
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