United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
Reidinger United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 12] and the Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 13].
Plaintiff, Cosmo Oliphant (“Plaintiff”), filed an
application for disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) and
supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act,
alleging an onset date of May 1, 2008. [Transcript
(“T.”) at 323]. The Plaintiff's application
was denied initially and upon reconsideration. [T. at 183,
194]. Upon Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held on
July 13, 2012, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). [T. at 214, 160]. On August 3, 2012, the
ALJ issued a decision (“the 2012 ALJ decision”)
denying the Plaintiff benefits, finding that the Plaintiff
was not disabled within the meaning of the Act since the date
of his application, July 23, 2010. [T. at 161-173]. The
Appeals Council issued a remand order on September 6, 2013,
vacating the 2012 ALJ decision and remanding the case for
further hearing. [T. at 179-181]. After further hearing, the
ALJ issued a decision denying the Plaintiff benefits. [T. at
17-31]. The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's
request for review, thereby making the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Commissioner. [T. at 1-6]. The
Plaintiff has exhausted all available administrative
remedies, and this case is now ripe for review pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner is
limited to (1) whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's decision, see Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), and (2) whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
1990). The Court does not review a final decision of the
Commissioner de novo. Smith v. Schweiker,
795 F.2d 343, 345 (4thCir. 1986).
Social Security Act provides that “[t]he findings of
the Commissioner of any Social Security as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . .
.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Fourth Circuit has
defined “substantial evidence” as “more
than a scintilla and [doing] more than creat[ing] a suspicion
of the existence of a fact to be established. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Smith v.
Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986)
(quoting Perales, 402 U.S. at 401).
Court may not re-weigh the evidence or substitute its own
judgment for that of the Commissioner, even if it disagrees
with the Commissioner's decision, so long as there is
substantial evidence in the record to support the final
decision below. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456; Lester
v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 838, 841 (4th Cir.
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
“disability” entitling a claimant to benefits
under the Social Security Act, as relevant here, is
“[the] inability 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). The Social Security Administration Regulations
set out a detailed five-step process for reviewing
applications for disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920; Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th
Cir. 2015). “If an applicant's claim fails at any
step of the process, the ALJ need not advance to the
subsequent steps.” Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d
1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). The burden is
on the claimant to make the requisite showing at the first
four steps. Id.
one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaged in
substantial gainful activity. If so, the claimant's
application is denied regardless of the medical condition,
age, education, or work experience of the claimant.
Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920). If not, the
case progresses to step two, where the claimant must show a
severe impairment. If the claimant does not show any physical
or mental deficiencies, or a combination thereof, which
significantly limit the claimant's ability to perform
work activities, then no severe impairment is established and
the claimant is not disabled. Id.
three, the ALJ must determine whether one or more of the
claimant's impairments meets or equals one of the listed
impairments (“Listings”) found at 20 C.F.R. 404,
Appendix 1 to Subpart P. If so, the claimant is automatically
deemed disabled regardless of age, education or work
experience. Id. If not, before proceeding to step
four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”). The RFC is an
administrative assessment of “the most” a
claimant can still do on a “regular and continuing
basis” notwithstanding the claimant's medically
determinable impairments and the extent to which those
impairments affect the claimant's ability to perform
work-related functions. SSR 96-8p; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1546(c); 404.943(c); 416.945.
four, the claimant must show that his or her limitations
prevent the claimant from performing his or her past work. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Mascio, 780
F.3d at 634. If the claimant can still perform his or her
past work, then the claimant is not disabled. Id.
Otherwise, the case progresses to the fifth step where the
burden shifts to the Commissioner. At step five, the
Commissioner must establish that, given the claimant's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, the claimant can
perform alternative work which exists in substantial numbers
in the national economy. Id.; Hines v.
Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 567 (4th Cir. 2006). “The
Commissioner typically offers this evidence through the
testimony of a vocational expert responding to a hypothetical
that incorporates the claimant's limitations.” 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Mascio, 780
F.3d at 635. If the Commissioner succeeds in shouldering her
burden at step five, the claimant is not disabled and the
application for benefits must be denied. Id.
Otherwise, the claimant is entitled to benefits. In this
case, the ALJ rendered a determination adverse to the
Plaintiff at the fifth step.