United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
KAREN D. SCOTT-GRANT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Karen D.
Scott-Grant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11)
filed on January 19, 2018, and Defendant Acting Commissioner
of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's
(“Commissioner”) Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. No. 13) filed on March 20, 2018.
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 the
Commissioner'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
April 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for Title II and
Title XVI disability benefits, alleging disability beginning
August 3, 2012. (Tr. 213, 219, 63). After her application was
denied initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 135, 146,
154), Plaintiff requested a hearing (Tr. 164). After the
hearing on April 14, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision. (Tr. 13). Plaintiff's request for review by the
Appeals Council was subsequently denied. (Tr. 1).
determined Plaintiff was not disabled from the alleged onset
date through the date of the decision. (Tr. 16). The ALJ
found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her alleged onset date and that she had the
following severe impairments: “diabetes mellitus type
II, hypertension, unspecified arthropathy, mood disorder and
anxiety disorder.” (Tr. 18). 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. 19). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work
as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b):
[E]xcept she is limited to frequent, but not constant,
handling and fingering bilaterally; she must be permitted to
alternate between sitting and standing at 30 minute
intervals; she is limited to occasional climbing of ladders;
frequent climbing of stairs, balancing, stooping, crouching,
kneeling and crawling; no concentrated exposure to hazards
such as moving machinery or unprotected heights; she is
further limited to simple routine and repetitive tasks
involving no more than occasional public contact.
(Tr. 20). In response to a hypothetical that factored in
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the
vocational expert (“VE”) testified that such an
individual can perform jobs in the national economy that
exist in significant numbers. (Tr. 24). Thus, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled, as defined under
the Social Security Act. (Tr. 25).
has exhausted all administrative remedies and now appeals
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1382(c)(3).
Plaintiff claims that the ALJ's decision should be
reversed because the ALJ failed to make a complete finding of
Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity and
relied on testimony from the VE that appears to conflict with
the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”).
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. §§ ...