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Arnold v. Berryhill

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

June 19, 2018

DOUGLAS ALLEN ARNOLD, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Douglas Allen Arnold's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 12) and Defendant Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Commissioner”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 14). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Social Security Income (“SSI”).

         Upon review and consideration of the written arguments, administrative record, and applicable authority, for the reasons discussed 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. Factual Background

         Plaintiff applied for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Social Security Income on August 14, 2013. (Tr. 41). He alleged to suffer from disability beginning on August 1, 2010. Id. Plaintiff's claims for both DIB and SSI were denied on October 18, 2013. Id. After a hearing upon reconsideration to ensure the consideration of total evidence (Tr. 137), his claims were again denied on April 4, 2014. Id. Following this, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found against Plaintiff on both claims on June 2, 2016. (Id. at 51). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request of review on April 10, 2017. (Id. at 5). Plaintiff now appeals the Commissioner's decision before this Court.

         Plaintiff alleges that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence and that the correct legal standards were not applied. (Doc. No. 13, p. 1). Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred by (1) failing to perform a function by function analysis of Plaintiff's ability to walk, stand, and sit; and (2) failing to evaluate Mr. Arnold's need to elevate his legs. Id. Specifically, Plaintiff asks for a favorable decision from this Court due to the allegation that the ALJ failed to make a finding regarding the duration of which Plaintiff can walk, stand, and sit and the allegation that the ALJ failed to make a finding regarding Plaintiff's alleged need to elevate his legs during the day. Id. at 2. Plaintiff alleges,

The ALJ's failure to perform a function by function analysis of these relevant, contested functions was very harmful as Mr. Arnold's alleged limited ability to walk at one time constitutes an inability to ambulate effectively and the vocational expert (“VE”) testified that if he needed to elevate his legs while sitting at waist level or higher for any sedentary job setting, he would be unemployable.

Id. Defendant, meanwhile, contends that the ALJ conducted a thorough analysis in his written decision in which he considered substantial evidence. (Doc. No. 15, p. 1).

         II. Standard of Review

         This Court is authorized to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security to deny social security benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Two factors are essential to the Court's decision in determining whether the Commissioner made the correct determination. First, substantial evidence must exist that supports the decision of the Commissioner. Bird v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1982). It is evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequately supporting a conclusion. Id. In making its determination, the Court will not reweigh evidence. It is not the role of this Court 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. 1990).

         Second, the Commissioner must have applied the correct legal standard. Bird, 699 F.3d at 340. The Commissioner must use a five-step process for social security claims. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The Commissioner asks, in sequence, whether the claimant: (1) participated in substantially gainful activity (SGA); (2) suffered from an impairment or combination of impairments that qualify as medically severe; (3) suffered from an impairment that met or equaled the severity of a listed[1] impairment; (4) can return to their past relevant work while assessing the residual functional capacity (RFC); and (5) if not, could perform other work in the national economy. Id. While the claimant bears the burden of proof for the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner for the fifth step. Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2016).

         At the end of the third step, the Commissioner makes a determination of the claimant's RFC. Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 861-62 (4th Cir. 2017). A claimant's RFC is relevant if the claimant does not meet a listed disability. Id. In the fourth step, the claimant must show they cannot perform the work of their past jobs to be successful. Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 635 (4th Cir. 2015). If the claimant is successful here, the burden shifts to the government for the final step to prove that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy which are suitable for the plaintiff. Lewis, 858 F.3d at 861-62. The government typically attempts to meet this burden through the use of a vocational expert (VE). Id. at 862.

         III. Analysis

         The ALJ found in favor of Plaintiff with respect to the first four steps of the five-step decisional process. Plaintiff's assignments of error arise out of final step of the five-step decisional process. Here, the ALJ concluded that despite Plaintiff's severe impairments, jobs exist in the national economy that Plaintiff could still perform. (Tr. 50-51). In making this decision, the ALJ took into account the advice of the vocational expert (“VE”), the RFC, and the claimant's age, education, and work experience. Id. at 50. Plaintiff argues: (1) the ALJ failed to engage in a function by function analysis of ...


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