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Cumbee v. Berryhill

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

March 6, 2018

HENRY A. CUMBEE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          TERRENCE W. BOYLE United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings [D.E. 15, 18]. On February 21, 2018, the court held a hearing on this matter in Raleigh, North Carolina [D.E. 26]. For the following reasons, this matter is REMANDED for further consideration by the Commissioner.


         On May 11, 2011, 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. 327-341]. Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of December 15, 2010. [Tr. 149]. Plaintiffs applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [Tr. 169-187].

         On April 17, 2013, the ALJ held a hearing to consider plaintiffs claims de novo. [Tr. 69-102]. On May 30, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. [Tr. 146-163]. Plaintiff appealed and, on August 28, 2014, the Appeals Council remanded plaintiffs claim for further proceedings. [Tr. 164-168, 256-257].

         On April 9, 2015, the ALJ held a second hearing to consider de novo plaintiffs remanded claims. [Tr. 35-68]. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 16, 2015. [Tr. 12-34]. Plaintiff again appealed and, on October 31, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. [Tr. 1-5, 9-11]. On December 21, 2016, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). [D.E. 5].


         A 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, A2>A F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (internal quotation and citation omitted).

         "A necessary predicate to engaging in substantial evidence review is a record of the basis for the ALJ's ruling, " including "a discussion of which evidence the ALJ found credible and why, and specific application of the pertinent legal requirements to the record evidence." Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2013). An ALJ's decision "must build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion" and also must "include a narrative discussion describing how the evidence supports each conclusion." Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 189-90 (4th Cir. 2016) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

         Under 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." 42U.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 ....

42U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         The ALJ 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).

         When 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. ยง ...

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