United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION
L. Howell United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions
for summary judgment (# 14, 16). Plaintiff brought this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial
review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying his claim for
disability benefits. The issues have been fully briefed, and
the matter is now ripe for ruling. For the reasons set forth
below, the Court recommends that Plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment be granted and the Commissioner's motion
for summary judgment be denied.
April 30, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits.
(Transcript of Administrative Record (“T.”) 24.)
Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of July 15,
2011. (T. 24.) The Social Security
Administration denied Plaintiff's claim initially on July
8, 2013. (T. 24.) The claim was denied upon reconsideration
on October 2, 2013. (T. 24.) On November 26, 2013, Plaintiff
filed a written request for a hearing. (T. 24.)
18, 2015 and August 10, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) conducted hearings in Charlotte, North
Carolina. (T. 24.) On September 25, 2015, the ALJ
denied Plaintiff's claim in a written decision. (T.
21-23, 24-35.) Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's
decision, and on October 3, 2016, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. (T. 1.)
ALJ's September 25, 2015, decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. On December 2, 2016, Plaintiff
filed the instant action seeking review of the
Commissioner's final decision. See Compl. (# 1).
Standard for Determining Disability
individual is disabled for purposes of receiving disability
payments if he or she 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 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); accord
Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). The
Commissioner undertakes a five-step inquiry to determine
whether a claimant is disabled. Johnson v. Barnhart,
434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam). Under the
five-step sequential evaluation, the Commissioner must
consider each of the following, in sequence: (1) whether the
claimant has engaged in substantial gainful employment; (2)
whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the
claimant's impairment is sufficiently severe to meet or
exceed the severity of one or more of the listing of
impairments contained in Appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P; (4) whether the claimant can perform his or her
past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is able to
perform any other work considering his or her age, education,
and residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520; Mastro, 270 F.3d at 177;
Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653 n.1.
first two steps of the sequential evaluation, the burden is
on the claimant to make the requisite showing. Monroe v.
Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 179 (4th Cir. 2016). If a claimant
fails to satisfy his or her burden at either of these first
two steps, the ALJ will determine that the claimant is not
disabled and the process comes to an end. Mascio v.
Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015). The burden
remains on the claimant at step three to demonstrate that the
claimant's impairments satisfy a listed impairment and,
thereby, establish disability. Monroe, 826 F.3d at
claimant fails to satisfy his or her burden at step three,
however, then the ALJ must still determine the claimant's
RFC. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635. After determining the
claimant's RFC, the ALJ proceeds to step four in order to
determine whether the claimant can perform his or her past
relevant work. Id. The burden is on the claimant to
demonstrate that he or she is unable to perform past work.
Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. If the ALJ determines that
a claimant is not capable of performing past work, then the
ALJ proceeds to step five. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635.
five, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant can perform
other work. Id. The burden rests with the
Commissioner at step five to prove by a preponderance of the
evidence that the claimant is capable of performing other
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy, taking into account the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience. Id.;
Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. Typically, the Commissioner
satisfies her burden at step five through the use of the
testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), who
offers testimony in response to a hypothetical question from
the ALJ that incorporates the claimant's limitations.
Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635; Monroe, 826 F.3d
at 180. If the Commissioner satisfies her burden at step
five, then the ALJ will find that the claimant is not
disabled and deny the application for disability benefits.
Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635; Monroe, 826 F.3d
The ALJ's Decision
September 25, 2015, decision, the ALJ ultimately concluded
that Plaintiff was not disabled under Sections 216(i) and
223(d) of the Social Security Act. (T. 35.) In reaching this
conclusion, the ALJ made the following specific findings:
(1) The claimant met the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act on December 31, 2014.
(2) The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful
activity during the period from his amended alleged onset
date of July 18, 2013, through his date last insured,
December 31, ...