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Thomas v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

May 29, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Joe L. Webster United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Bettie Fetterman Thomas seeks review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claims for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). The Court has before it the certified administrative record[1] and cross-motions for judgment.


         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI in January, 2013 alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2011, later amended to October 18, 2012. (Tr. 144-45, 274-77, 294.) The applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Id. at 118-143, 146-173.) Two hearings were then held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") at which Plaintiff, her attorney, and a vocational expert ("VE") were present. (Id. at 56-117.) On October 19, 2015, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Id. at 39-51.) On February 9, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of review. (Id. at 1-4.)


         The scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is specific and narrow. Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Or. 1986). Review is limited to determining if there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Or. 1992); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In reviewing for substantial evidence, the Court does not re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Craig v. Chafer, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). The issue before the Court is not whether Plaintiff is disabled but whether the finding that she is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and based upon a correct application of the relevant law. Id.


         The ALJ followed the well-established sequential analysis to ascertain whether the claimant is disabled, which is set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. See Albright v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). The ALJ determined at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset date of October 18, 2012. (Tr. 41.) The ALJ next determined at step two that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), degenerative disc disease, depression/mood disorder, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse disorder. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to, one listed in Appendix 1. (Id. at 42-44.) The ALJ next set forth Plaintiffs Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC"). (Id. at 44-49.) He determined that Plaintiff could perform light work with the following additional limitations:

the claimant requires the flexibility of a sit-stand option, allowing for position changes at [thirty] minute intervals. She must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes of cold/heat, humidity, pulmonary irritants, such as fumes, odors, dust, gases, poor ventilation and the like, as well as workplace hazards, such as dangerous moving machinery and unprotected heights. She can understand and perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks. She can maintain concentration, persistence or pace to stay on task for [two]-hour periods over typical [eight]-hour workday, in low stress setting, further defined to mean no production-pace or quota-based work, rather goal-oriented job primarily dealing with things as opposed to people, with no more than occasional changes in work setting; no work with the public as part of job, such as sales or negotiation, though incidental or casual contact as it might arise is permissible

(Id. at 44.)

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 49.) At step five, the ALJ determined that there were other jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id. at 50-51.) Consequently, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Id. at 51.)


         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to find that Plaintiffs COPD met the criteria of Listing 3.02A. (Docket Entry 12 at 4.) For the following reasons, the Court disagrees.

         Step three of the sequential analysis requires the ALJ to determine whether a claimant's impairment(s) meets or equals the medical criteria of 20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x. 1, which sets forth a list of impairments that warrant a finding of disability without considering vocational criteria. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d); see also Radford v. Colvin,734 F.3d 288, 291 (4th Cir. 2013) (internal quotations and citations omitted) ("A claimant is entitled to a conclusive presumption that he is impaired if he can show that his condition meets or equals the listed impairments."). ...

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