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Edwards v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina

March 6, 2018

MELISSA W. EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL [1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Robert J. Conrad, Jr., United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Melissa W. Edward's (“Plaintiff's”) Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 11), and Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 12), and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 13), and Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 14).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of Defendant's denial of her social security claim. (Doc. No. 1). On July 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed her application for a period of disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405 et seq. (Doc. Nos. 10 to 10-8: Administrative Record (“Tr.”) at 48-49). In her application, Plaintiff alleged an inability to work due to disabling conditions of: (1) major back surgery in April 2013, on bone stimulizer; (2) bone stimulator in lower back; (3) spinal fusion; (4) removed disc; (5) high cholesterol; and (6) diabetes.

         (Tr. 48). Plaintiff claimed that these conditions began on January 21, 2013. (Tr. 49). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon consideration. (Tr. 8).

         On June 27, 2016, a hearing was held in front of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ” (Tr. 23-47). On July 15, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 8-19). The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on September 1, 2016, making the ALJ's opinion the final decision of Defendant. (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff now appeals the ALJ's decision to this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g).

         B. Factual Background

         The question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was under a “disability” as that term of art is defined for Social Security purposes, at any time between January 21, 2013, Plaintiff's alleged onset date, and July 15, 2016, the date of the ALJ's decision.[2] (Tr. 8). To establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden of proving that he was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). The ALJ ultimately concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability at any point in the relevant timeframe. (Tr. 19).

         The Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The five steps are:

(1) whether claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity-if yes, not disabled;
(2) whether claimant has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment, or combination of impairments that meet the duration requirement in § 404.1509-if no, not disabled;
(3) whether claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listings in appendix 1 and meets the duration requirement-if yes, disabled;
(4) whether claimant has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform his or her past relevant work-if yes, not disabled; and
(5) whether considering claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience he or she can make an adjustment to other work-if yes, not disabled.

See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). In this case, the ALJ determined at the fifth step that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. at 18).

         To begin with, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since January 21, 2013, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 10). At the second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “lumbar degenerative disc disease, status post lumbar fusion, 1ight knee degenerative joint disease, diabetes mellitus, and obesity.” (Id.). At the third step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an “impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” (Tr. 11).

         Next, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's RFC and found that he retained the capacity to perform:

light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that she is further limited to occasional bending, stooping, squatting, twisting, crawling, and crouching, and no climbing or work around dangerous heights or equipment. She must be allowed to alternate between sitting and standing ...

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