United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION
KIMBERLY A. SWANK, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the court on the parties' cross motions
for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Etta Frednel Colon
(Plaintiff) filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) seeking judicial review of the denial of her
application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). The time
for filing responsive briefs has expired, and the pending
motions are ripe for adjudication. Having carefully reviewed
the administrative record and the motions and memoranda
submitted by the parties, the undersigned recommends that
Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE #21]
be denied, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings [DE #22] be granted, and the Commissioner's
decision be upheld.
OF THE CASE
applied for a period of disability and DIB on November 7,
2013, with an alleged onset date of February 28, 2008. (R.
47, 176, 257-58.) The application was denied initially and
upon reconsideration, and a request for hearing was filed.
(R. 47, 176, 192, 221-24.) A hearing was held on October 18,
2016, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Joseph Booth III,
who issued an unfavorable ruling on November 4, 2016. (R. 47,
60.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review on February 27, 2017. (R. 1.) Plaintiff seeks judicial
review of the final administrative decision pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
Standard of Review
scope of judicial review of a final agency decision denying
disability benefits is limited to determining whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's factual
findings and whether the decision was reached through the
application of the correct legal standards. See Coffman
v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). Substantial
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; [i]t
consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be
somewhat less than a preponderance.” Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (first quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
then quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642
(4th Cir. 1966)) (citations omitted) (alteration in
original). “In reviewing for substantial evidence, [the
court should not] undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence,
make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment
for that of the [Commissioner].” Mastro v.
Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting
Craig, 76 F.3d at 589) (first and second alterations
in original). Rather, in conducting the “substantial
evidence” inquiry, the court determines whether the
Commissioner has considered all relevant evidence and
sufficiently explained the weight accorded to the evidence.
Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v. Akers, 131 F.3d 438,
439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).
making a disability determination, the Commissioner utilizes
a five-step evaluation process. The Commissioner asks,
sequentially, whether the claimant: (1) is engaged in
substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment;
(3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements
of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
App. 1; (4) can perform the requirements of past work; and,
if not, (5) based on the claimant's age, work experience,
and residual functional capacity can adjust to other work
that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); Albright v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2
(4th Cir. 1999). The burden of proof and production during
the first four steps of the inquiry rests on the claimant.
Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th. Cir. 1995).
At the fifth step, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
show that other work exists in the national economy that the
claimant can perform. Id.
the five-step, sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found
Plaintiff “not disabled” as defined in the Social
Security Act. At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful employment since February 28,
2008, the alleged onset date. (R. 49.) Next, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
“asthma, diabetes mellitus, rotator cuff impairment,
hallux valgus, post-traumatic stress disorder, and major
depressive disorder.” (Id.) The ALJ also found
Plaintiff's hyperlipidemia and hypertension to be
non-severe impairments. (R. 50.)
three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's impairments
were not severe enough, either individually or in
combination, to meet or medically equal one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R.
50.) The ALJ stated that he considered all listings in
Section 1.00, Section 3.00, and Section 9.00, and that he
specifically considered Listings 12.04 and 12.06.
to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (RFC) and found that Plaintiff
the residual functional capacity to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), except she can only frequently
operate foot controls bilaterally, frequently reach overhead
bilaterally, frequently climb ramps and stairs, balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, and never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds. She can tolerate occasional exposure to
unprotected heights, humidity and wetness, hot and cold
temperature extremes, and dust, odors, fumes, and other
pulmonary irritants. She can tolerate frequent exposure to
moving mechanical parts and vibration. She is limited to work
involving no production rate pace (e.g. assembly line work or
work with production-based performance quotas) and only