United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
KERRY A. GOWER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings. [D.E. 17, 19]. A hearing; on
this matter was held in Raleigh, North Carolina on February
21, 2018. [D.E. 22]. For the reasons discussed below,
plaintiffs motion [D.E. 17] is DENIED, defendant's motion
[D.E. 19] is GRANTED, and the decision of the Commissioner is
previously applied for! disability insurance benefits
("DIB") under Title II of the i
Social Security Act ("Act") and received an
unfavorable decision from an Administrative Law
i Judge ("ALJ") on March 12, 2014.
[tr. 58-79]. Plaintiff did not appeal. On August 6, 2015,
plaintiff again applied for DIB, alleging a disability onset
of October 13, 2011. [Tr. 180-81]. This claim was denied
initially and upon reconsideration. [Tr. 80-95, 96-114,
117-20, 122-27]. On June 28, 2016, an ALJ conducted a hearing
to consider plaintiffs claims de novo. [Tr. 33-57].
On August 29, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding that
plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.
[Tr. 10-32]. The Appeals Council denied plaintiffs review
request on January 13, 2017, rendering the ALJ's decision
the Commissioner's final decision. [Tr. 1-3].
January 25, 2017, 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. 1].
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). Substantial
evidence '"consists of more than a mere scintilla of
evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance.'" Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d
585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). When
determining whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's final decision, courts should not
"undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make
credibility determinations, or substitute our judgment for
that of the [Commissioner]." Id. (citing
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
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
42U.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).
finding 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. Id. The ALJ 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). An RFC finding should also
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, and 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