United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
JESSIE B. BLAKESLEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION
L. Howell United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions
for summary judgment (# 9, 13). Plaintiff brought this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review
of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her claim for disability
benefits. The issues have been fully briefed, and the matter
is now ripe for ruling. For the reasons set forth below, the
Court recommends that Plaintiff's motion for summary
judgment be granted and the Commissioner's motion for
summary judgment be denied.
March 24, 2014, plaintiff filed a Title II application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits.
(Transcript of Administrative Record (“T.”) 23.)
Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of December 21,
2013. (T. 23.) The Social Security Administration denied
Plaintiff's claim initially on June 5, 2014. (T. 23.) The
claim was denied upon reconsideration on August 20, 2014. (T.
23.) On September 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed a written request
for a hearing. (T. 23.)
26, 2016, a disability hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in Franklin,
North Carolina. (T. 23.) Plaintiff, represented by attorney
S. Janson Grimes, appeared and testified at the hearing. (T.
23.) A vocational expert (“VE”), Mark Leaptrot,
also appeared at the hearing. (T. 23.)
issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled
from December 21, 2013, through the date of his decision,
August 10, 2016. (T. 23-40.) Plaintiff requested review of
the ALJ's decision. (T. 7.) On June 4, 2017, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T. 7-9.)
On August 3, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant action seeking
review of the Commissioner's final decision. See
Compl. (# 1)
Standard for Determining Disability
individual is disabled for purposes of receiving disability
payments if he or she 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 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); accord
Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). The
Commissioner undertakes a five-step inquiry to determine
whether a claimant is disabled. Johnson v. Barnhart,
434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam). Under the
five-step sequential evaluation, the Commissioner must
consider each of the following, in order: (1) whether the
claimant has engaged in substantial gainful employment; (2)
whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the
claimant's impairment is sufficiently severe to meet or
exceed the severity of one or more of the listing of
impairments contained in Appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P; (4) whether the claimant can perform his or her
past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is able to
perform any other work considering his or her age, education,
and residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520; Mastro, 270 F.3d at 177;
Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653 n.1.
first two steps of the sequential evaluation, the burden is
on the claimant to make the requisite showing. Monroe v.
Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 179 (4th Cir. 2016). If a claimant
fails to satisfy his or her burden at either of these first
two steps, the ALJ will determine that the claimant is not
disabled and the process comes to an end. Mascio v.
Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015). The burden
remains on the claimant at step three to demonstrate that the
claimant's impairments satisfy a listed impairment and,
thereby, establish disability. Monroe, 826 F.3d at
claimant fails to satisfy his or her burden at step three,
however, then the ALJ must still determine the claimant's
RFC. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635. After determining the
claimant's RFC, the ALJ proceeds to step four in order to
determine whether the claimant can perform his or her past
relevant work. Id. The burden is on the claimant to
demonstrate that he or she is unable to perform past work.
Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. If the ALJ determines that
a claimant is not capable of performing past work, then the
ALJ proceeds to step five. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635.
five, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant can perform
other work. Id. The burden rests with the
Commissioner at step five to prove by a preponderance of the
evidence that the claimant is capable of performing other
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy, taking into account the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience. Id.;
Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. Typically, the Commissioner
satisfies her burden at step five through the use of the
testimony from a VE, who offers testimony in response to a
hypothetical question from the ALJ that incorporates the
claimant's limitations. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635;
Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. If the Commissioner
satisfies her burden at step five, then the ALJ will find
that the claimant is not disabled and deny the application
for disability benefits. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635;
Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180.
The ALJ's Decision
August 10, 2016, decision, the ALJ ultimately found that
Plaintiff was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 233(d)
of the Social Security Act. (T. 40.) In support of this
conclusion, the ALJ made the following specific findings:
(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through June 30, 2017.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since December 21, 2013, the alleged onset date (20
C.F.R. § 404.1571 et seq.).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments:
obesity; degenerative disc disease, pelvis; and
depression (20 ...