United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division
L. HOWELL, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions
for summary judgment (# 15, 19). 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, Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment is granted and
the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment is denied.
5, 2013, Plaintiff protectively-filed a Title II application
for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits. (Transcript of Administrative Record
("T.") 19.) On the same day, Plaintiff also filed a
Title XVI application for supplemental security income
("SSI"). (T. 19.) In both applications, Plaintiff
alleged a disability onset date of November 6, 2012. (T. 19.)
Social Security Administration denied Plaintiffs claims
initially on September 6, 2013, and the claims were denied
upon reconsideration on December 16, 2013. (T. 19.) On
December 19, 2013, Plaintiff filed a written request for a
hearing. (T. 19.)
September 3, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") conducted a video hearing, which she
presided over from Baltimore, Maryland. (T. 19.) Plaintiff
appeared in Charlotte, North Carolina. (T. 19.) A vocational
expert, George J. Starosta, also appeared at the hearing. (T.
October 30, 2015, the ALJ denied Plaintiffs claims in a
written decision. (T. 19-30.) Plaintiff requested a review of
the ALJ's decision, and on December 7, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff s request for review. (T. 1-3.)
January 19, 2016, Plaintiff submitted an Appeal Brief in
Support of Request for Review of Hearing Decision (T.
422-24), which raises many of the same issues as Plaintiffs
post-hearing brief. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs
request for review of the ALJ's October 30, 2015,
decision. (T. 1-3.) The Appeals Council purportedly
considered the Appeal Brief but summarily found that the
information did not provide a basis upon which to change the
ALJ's decision. (T. 1-5.)
ALJ's October 30, 2015, decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. On February 3, 2017, 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, 416.920; Mastro. 270 F.3d at
177; Johnson. 434 F.3d at 653 n.l.
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 ...