United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
Terrence W. Boyle U.S. District Judge
cause comes before the Court on cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings. A hearing was held on these matters before the
undersigned on March 13, 2018 in Edenton, North Carolina. For
the reasons discussed below, the matter is remanded for
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review
of the final decision of the Commissioner denying her claim
for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") pursuant
to Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §
401-433. Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on April 6,
2012. Plaintiff protectively filed her application for DIB on
May 16, 2012. After denial initially and on reconsideration,
a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ"), who issued an unfavorable ruling on
October 16, 2015. This decision became the final decision
when the Appeals Council denied plaintiffs subsequent request
for review. Plaintiff then timely sought review of the
decision in this Court.
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), and
1383(c)(3), this Court's review of the Commissioner's
decision is limited to determining whether the decision, as a
whole, is supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner employed the correct legal standard.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.' 389, 401
(1971). Substantial evidence is "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
individual is considered disabled 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 [twelve] months." 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act further provides that 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 gainful
work which exists in the national economy." 42 U.S.C.
issued by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be followed in a disability case. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four,
but the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
If a decision regarding disability can be made at any step of
the process, however, the inquiry ceases. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).
one, if the Social Security Administration determines that
the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. If not, then step two asks
whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination
of impairments. If .the claimant has a severe impairment, it
is compared at step three to those in the Listing of
Impairments ("Listing") in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1. If the claimant's impairment meets or
medically equals a Listing, disability is conclusively
presumed. If not, at step four, the claimant's residual
functional capacity ("RFC") is assessed to
determine if the claimant can perform her past relevant work.
If so, the claim is denied. If the claimant cannot perform
past relevant work, then the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant, based on
her age, education, work experience, and RFC, can perform
other substantial gainful work. If the claimant cannot
perform other work, then she is found to be disabled. See 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not engaged in
substantial gainful activity at step one. She was determined
to have the following severe impairments at step two:
Cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease, depression,
anxiety disorder and panic attacks, borderline intellectual
functioning, degenerative joint disease, right knee
status-post arthroscopy, degenerative joint disease, left
ankle status-post two surgeries, bilateral carpal tunnel
syndrome, and obesity. These seyere impairments did not meet
a Listing at step three. The ALJ found that she had an RFC to
perform sedentary work with significant exertional and
non-exertional limitations, but could not perform her past
relevant work. At step five, using the testimony of a
vocational expert ("VE"), the ALJ determined that
jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy
that plaintiff could perform, and therefore she was not
disabled within the meaning of the Act.
makes two interlocking arguments in support of her case for
remand. Both focus on whether the ALJ appropriately evaluated
all of her limitations when determining her RFC. First,
plaintiff argues that the testimony of her treating
physicians was not properly weighed.
she claims that her RFC as determined by the ALJ was
inconsistent with the finding of moderate difficulty in
maintaining concentration, persistence and pace.
argues that her treating physicians' opinions show that
her difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence
and pace are more than moderate.
opinions of treating physicians merit significant weight. 20
C.F.R § 416.927. However, treating physicians do not
automatically get controlling weight, and an ALJ has no
obligation to adopt every aspect of a treating source's
opinion. Id. It is the ALJ's responsibility to
analyze how physician opinions map on to the ...