United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
TERRENCE W.BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
cause comes before the Court on cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings. A hearing was held on these matters before the
undersigned on May 24, 2018 at Elizabeth City, North
Carolina. For the reasons discussed below, this matter is
remanded to the Acting Commissioner for further proceedings.
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c) for review of the final decision of the Commissioner
denying his claim for supplemental security income
("SSI") pursuant to Title XVI and disability
insurance benefits ("DIB") pursuant to Title II of
the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleged disability began
on December 27, 1995. Plaintiff protectively filed his
application for SSI and for child insurance benefits based on
disability on March 18, 2015. After initial denials, a
hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ),
who issued an unfavorable ruling on January 25, 2017. This
decision became the final decision when the Appeals Council
denied plaintiffs subsequent request for review. Plaintiff
then timely sought review of the Acting Commissioner's
decision in this Court.
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), and
1383(c)(3), this Court's review of the Commissioner's
decision is limited to determining whether the decision, as a
whole, is supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner employed the correct legal standard.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
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) (per curiam) (internal quotation and
individual is considered disabled if he 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
[twelve] months." 42 U.S.C. § l382c(a)(3)(A). The
Act further provides that an individual "shall be
determined to be under a disability only if his physical or
mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he
is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot,
considering his age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other line of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy." 42 U.S.C. § l382c(a)(3)(B).
issued by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be followed in a disability case. 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 Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
If a decision regarding disability can be made at any step of
the process, however, the inquiry ceases. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).
one, if the Social Security Administration determines that
the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. If not, then step two asks
whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination
of impairments. If the claimant has a severe impairment, it
is compared at step three to those in the Listing of
Impairments ("Listing") in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1. If the claimant's impairment meets or
medically equals a Listing, disability is conclusively
presumed. If not, at step four, the claimant's residual
functional capacity ("RFC") is assessed to
determine if the claimant can perform his past relevant work.
If so, the claim is denied. If the claimant cannot perform
past relevant work, then the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant, based on
his age, education, work experience, and RFC, can perform
other substantial gainful work. If the claimant cannot
perform other work, then he is found to be disabled. See 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
the ALJ determined at step one that claimant had never
engaged in substantial gainful activity and was alleging
disability before reaching age 22. At step two, claimant was
found to have two severe impairments: osteogenesis imperfecta
and traumatic brain injury. The claimant was not found to
meet a listing at step three, and at step four the ALJ
determined he had a light RFC with some limitations. As
claimant had no past relevant work, the ALJ proceeded to step
five, finding that he was not disabled because he could
perform the jobs of cashier, cafeteria attendant and marker.
ALJ's conclusions is unsupported by substantial evidence.
Specifically, the ALJ failed to account for plaintiffs
chronic pain. Pain can be disabling, and an ALJ must evaluate
the effect of pain on a claimant's ability to work.
Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 983 (4th Cir.
1980). Pain and capacity to work are "not separate
assessments to be compared with each other. Mascio v.
Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 639 (4th Cir. 2015). Instead, a
claimant's pain level must be part of an ALJ's RFC
determination. An ALJ need not accept subjective evidence
when it is inconsistent with other evidence. Hines v.
Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 565 (4th Cir. 2006). But
evidence of lack of muscular weakness is not the same as
evidence of lack of pain. When the record objectively
indicates plaintiffs reports of pain are credible, a finding
of strength would not invalidate that. See Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 595 (4th Cir. 1996).
an ALJ is not obligated to adopt a treating physician's
opinion. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2);
416.927(c)(2). A treating physician's opinion does merit
controlling weight when it is well supported and is not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the
the ALJ erred when she found that plaintiffs reports of
disabling pain were not credible, and when she discounted the
opinion of his treating physician. Plaintiffs osteogenesis
imperfecta, known colloquially as brittle bone disease,
caused bone weakness, deformities and fractures throughout
his childhood. The continued bone pain documented on the
record is a known and established symptom of that disease.
According to his treating physician, it is his pain, not
weakness or limited range of motion, that limits his ability
to walk, stand and sit such that he cannot work.
made her credibility findings and weighed the testimony of
the treating physician by misapprehending the relationship
between bone pain and muscle strength. The two are
anatomically distinct; muscle strength does not invalidate a
report of bone pain. Accordingly, the Court finds that the
ALJ failed to give claimant's ...