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Mann v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

March 30, 2018

KEITH EUGENE MANN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          ROBERT J. CONRAD, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Keith Eugene Mann's (“Plaintiff's”) Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 11); his Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 12); Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Defendant's or “Commissioner's”) Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 13), and her Memorandum in Support, (Doc. No. 14).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of Defendant's denial of his social security claim. (Doc. No. 1). On January 18, 2013, Plaintiff filed his application for a period of disability insurance benefits alleging an onset date of October 11, 2013. (Doc. Nos. 6 to 6-8: Administrative Record (“Tr.”) at 186-94). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon consideration. (Tr. 78-114, 118-27, 131-138).

         On June 18, 2015, a hearing was held in front of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 29-74). On August 14, 2015, ALJ Jenkins issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 8-28). The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on November 30, 2016, making the ALJ's opinion the final decision of Defendant. (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff now appeals the ALJ's decision, requesting this Court to issue a remand pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g).

         B. Factual Background

         The question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was under a “disability”[2]pursuant to sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act between October 11, 2012, Plaintiff's alleged onset date, and August 14, 2016, the date of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 11). To establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden of proving that he was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). The ALJ ultimately concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability at any point in the relevant timeframe. (Tr. 22).

         The Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).

         The five steps are:

(1) whether claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity-if yes, not disabled;
(2) whether claimant has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment, or combination of impairments that meet the duration requirement in § 404.1509-if no, not disabled;
(3) whether claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listings in appendix 1 and meets the duration requirement-if yes, disabled;
(4) whether claimant has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform his or her past relevant work-if yes, not disabled; and
(5) whether considering claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience he or she can make an adjustment to other work-if yes, not disabled.

See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). In this case, the ALJ determined at the fifth step that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. at 21-22).

         To begin with, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since October 11, 2012, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 13). At the second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “lumbar degenerative disc disease, obesity, history of hernia, affective disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning.” (Id.). At the third step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an “impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” (Tr. 15).

         Next, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's RFC and found that he retained the capacity to perform:

light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he can occasionally crouch and crawl; he can frequently climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, and kneel. Additionally, the claimant can occasionally be exposed to hazards associated with unprotected dangerous machinery or unprotected heights. Mentally, the claimant is able to understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine tasks involving simple work-related decisions, occasional independent judgment skills, and occasional workplace changes. Finally, the claimant can perform work with occasional interaction with the general public and occasional interaction with co-workers; and the claimant can respond appropriately to reasonable and customary supervision.

(Tr. 16-17). In making his finding, the ALJ specifically stated that he “considered all symptoms and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence.” (Tr. 17). The ALJ further opined that he “considered opinion evidence in accordance with the requirements of 20 CFR 404.1527 and 416.927 and SSRs [Social Security Rulings] 96-2p, 96-5p, 96-6p and 06-3p.” (Id.).

         At the fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work. (Tr. 20-21). Finally, at the fifth and final step, the ALJ concluded that, after “[c]onsidering [Plaintiff's] age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform.” (Tr. 21-22). Therefore, the ALJ determined that, “[b]ased on the application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits protectively filed on January 18, 2013, the claimant is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.” (Tr. 22).

         II. ...


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