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Culbertson v. Berryhill

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

April 26, 2018

BONNIE MOORE CULBERTSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          FRANK D. WHITNEY, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Bonnie Moore Culbertson's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 10), filed December 15, 2017, and Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Commissioner”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 12), filed February 13, 2018. Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on her application for Supplemental Social Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).

         Having reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative record, and applicable authority, and for the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED; the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED; and the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for Title II benefits on September 16, 2013 (Tr. 229) and Title XVI benefits on September 24, 2013 (Tr. 236). Plaintiff alleges disability beginning June 18, 2018. (Tr. 79). After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 161, 166, 170), Plaintiff request a hearing (Tr. 175). After a hearing on June 15, 2016 (Tr. 39, 193, 219), the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision (Tr. 18). Plaintiff's subsequent request for review by the Appeals Council was denied. (Tr. 1).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 18, 2008 and met the insured status requirements through September 30, 2015. (Tr. 23). The ALJ found Plaintiff to have the following severe impairments: “status-post June 2008 cerebrovascular accident (stroke); hypertension; neuropathy; anxiety; and depression[.]” (Tr. 24). The ALJ determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart B, App. 1. (Tr. 25). The ALJ then found Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b):

[E]xcept she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, and never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and she can have only occasional exposure to workplace hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. Mentally, the claimant is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks, with no fast-paced production-rate work. She requires a work environment with few if any, workplace changes, and occasional interaction with the general public.

         (Tr. 26). In response to a hypothetical that factored in Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the vocational expert (“VE”) testified that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a housekeeper and could perform others jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 31-32). As a result, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled, as defined under the Social Security Act, from June 18, 2008 through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 32).

         Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and now appeals pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing light work. (Doc. No. 11 at 4).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Section 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. 2013).

         “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) (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). We 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, ” we defer to the ALJ's decision. Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653.

         “In 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 Cir. 2016).

         “If 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. ยงยง ...


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