United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Northern Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
cause comes before the Court on cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings. The matters have been fully briefed and are
ripe for ruling. For the reasons discussed below, the
decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.
Plaintiff brought this action under 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for review of the
final decision of the Commissioner denying her claim for
disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) pursuant
to Title II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff applied for
DIB on May 29, 2012, alleging disability since August 4,
2010. After initial denials, a video hearing was held before
an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who issued an unfavorable
ruling. The decision of the ALJ became the final decision of
the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiffs
request for review. Plaintiff then timely sought review of
the Commissioner's decision in the United States District
Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs
claim was transferred to this Court by order entered January
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 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
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 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 his 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 his age, education, work
experience, and RFC, can perform other substantial gainful
work. If the claimant cannot perform other work, then he is
found to be disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §
one, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity during the period from her
alleged onset date through her date last insured. Plaintiffs
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine
were considered severe at step two but were not found alone
or in combination to meet or equal a Listing at step three.
At step four, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had the RFC to
perform sedentary work with limitations. The ALJ found that
plaintiff could no longer perform her past relevant work as a
dental assistant, dental hygienist, bridal consultant, or
store manager. At step five, the ALJ found that, considering
plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs
existed in significant numbers in the national economy which
plaintiff could perform, including receptionist/clerk, office
clerk, and inspector. Thus, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff
was not disabled as of the date of her decision.
appeal, plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly discounted
plaintiffs subjective statements about her pain, failed to
conduct an analysis of Listings 1.04 and 11.14, improperly
discounted Dr. McAuley's opinion, and failed to properly
analyze step five. The Court considers each argument in turn.
makes an RFC assessment based on all of the relevant medical
and other evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3).
The ALJ follows a two-step analysis when considering a
claimant's subjective statements about impairments and
symptoms. First, the ALJ looks for objective medical
evidence showing a condition that could reasonably produce
the alleged symptoms. Second, the ALJ must evaluate the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the
claimant's symptoms to determine the extent to which
they limit the claimant's ability to perform basic work
activities. The second determination requires the ...