United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
D. WHITNEY CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Donna Faye
McKinney's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13)
filed on January 10, 2018, and Defendant Acting Commissioner
of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's
(“Commissioner”) Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. No. 15) filed on March 9, 2018. Plaintiff, through
counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable
administrative decision on her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).
reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative
record, and applicable authority, and for the reasons set
forth below, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part
Plaintiff's Motion For Summary Judgment; DENIES
Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment; and REVERSES the
Commissioner's decision and REMANDS this matter pursuant
to Sentence Four 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for proceedings
consistent with this Order.
filed an application for disability benefits under Title II
on December 2, 2013, alleging disability beginning July 30,
2011. (Tr. 29). After her application was denied initially
and upon reconsideration (Tr. 106, 112, 114), Plaintiff
requested a hearing (Tr. 122). A hearing was held on August
3, 2016. (Tr. 29, 49, 54). On August 24, 2016, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 26). Plaintiff's request
for review by the Appeals Council was denied on June 9, 2017.
established that Plaintiff met the insured status requirement
through December 31, 2016 and had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date of July 30,
2011. (Tr. 31). Then, the ALJ found Plaintiff had severe
impairments of degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis,
obesity, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 31). The ALJ
determined that none of these impairments nor any combination
of the impairments met or medically equaled a per se disabled
medical listing under 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.
(Tr. 36). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”):
to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR [§]
404.1567(c) with frequent postural, except occasional
balancing and no climbing ladders/ropes/scaffolds; avoiding
concentrated exposure to hazards; and performing simple,
routine, repetitive work with frequent contact with
co-workers, supervisors, and [the] public.
38). The vocational expert (“VE”) testified that
an individual with Plaintiff's RFC could perform her past
relevant work as a janitor, DOT No. 389.667-010. (Tr. 42).
Additionally, in response to a hypothetical that factored in
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the
VE testified that an individual with these limitations could
perform jobs in the national economy and listed jobs, in
which work exists in significant numbers in the national
economy. (Tr. 42-43). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
was not disabled, as defined under the Social Security Act.
has exhausted all administrative remedies and now appeals.
(Doc. No. 1). In Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment,
Plaintiff claims that the ALJ's decision should be
reversed because the ALJ's decision failed to properly
assess Plaintiff's vocational limitations as required by
Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632 (4th Cir. 2015).
(Doc. No. 14 at 11-12).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
405(g) of Title 42 of the United States Code provides
judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's
denial of social security benefits. When examining a
disability determination, a reviewing court is required to
uphold the determination when an ALJ has applied correct
legal standards and the ALJ's factual findings are
supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Westmoreland Coal Co., Inc. v. Cochran, 718 F.3d
319, 322 (4th Cir. 2013); Bird v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012). A reviewing
court may not re-weigh conflicting evidence or make
credibility determinations because “it is not within
the province of a reviewing court to determine the weight of
the evidence, nor is it the court's function to
substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary if his
decision is supported by substantial evidence.”
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
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) (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted).
“It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence
but may be less than a preponderance.” Pearson v.
Colvin, 810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Courts do not reweigh evidence or
make credibility determinations in evaluating whether a
decision is supported by substantial evidence; “[w]here
conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ,
” courts defer to the ALJ's decision.
Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653.
order to establish entitlement to benefits, a claimant must
provide evidence of a medically determinable impairment that
precludes returning to past relevant work and adjustment to
other work.” Flesher v. Berryhill, 697
Fed.Appx. 212 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1508, 404.1520(g)). In evaluating a disability claim, the
Commissioner uses a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. Pursuant to this five-step process, the
Commissioner asks, in sequence, whether the claimant: (1)
worked during the alleged period of disability; (2) had a
severe impairment; (3) had an impairment that met or equaled
the severity of a listed impairment; (4) could return to his
past relevant work; and (5) if not, could perform any other
work in the national economy. Id.; see also
Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 861 (4th Cir. 2017)
(citing Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th
Cir. 2015)); 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 Lewis, 858 F.3d at
861; Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 179-80 (4th
the claimant fails to demonstrate she has a disability that
meets or medically equals a listed impairment at step three,
the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to step four,
which is ‘the most [the claimant] can still do despite
[her physical and mental] limitations [that affect h[er]
ability to work].'” Lewis, 858 F.3d at
861-62 (quoting 20 C.F.R. §§ ...