United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
DAVID G. HOUGH, JR., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff David G. Hough's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11), and Defendant
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Nancy A.
Berryhill's (“Commissioner”) Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13). Plaintiff seeks judicial
review of an unfavorable administrative decision on his
application for Period of Disability and Disability Insurance
review and consideration of the written arguments,
administrative record, and applicable authority,
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED for the
reasons discussed below; the Commissioner's Motion for
Summary Judgment is GRANTED, and the Commissioner's
decision is AFFIRMED.
filed an application for disability insurance benefits under
title II of the Act in June 2013, alleging disability
beginning June 1, 2012. (Tr. 150). The claim was denied
initially (Tr. 89) and as well as on reconsideration. (Tr.
94). Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing (Tr. 101),
which was held before an ALJ on February 4, 2016. (Tr. 35).
On April 28, 2016, the ALJ denied the claim, finding that
Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act (Tr. 15-30).
found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity during the period from his amended alleged onset
date of March 1, 2013, through his date last insured of
December 31, 2014. (Tr. 24). The ALJ found Plaintiff to have
the following severe impairments: post-laminectomy syndrome,
obesity, and depression. Id. The ALJ found that
although “[Plaintiff] reported some vision deficits at
times and underwent a corneal graft in his right eye, there
is no indication that he experienced any substantial vision
loss or that any of his symptoms would have had more than a
minimal effect on his ability to do basic work activities for
a period of twelve or more continuous months. (Tr. 24). In
May 2014, Plaintiff reported he was “very happy”
with the vision in that eye and was “doing well.”
(Tr. 25). The ALJ found that there is no evidence that
Plaintiff's impairments “resulted in an inability
to ambulate effectively or an inability to perform fine and
gross movements effectively.” Id. Plaintiff
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, App.1 (20 CFR
404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526). Id. The ALJ
also found “there is no evidence of hospitalization,
exacerbations of the claimant's symptoms accompanied by
loss of adaptive functioning, or increased treatment during
the relevant time period.” (Tr. 26). Furthermore,
neither “paragraph B” nor “paragraph
C” criteria were satisfied. Id.
determined Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as defined in
20 CFR 404.1567(a):
[E]xcept he requires the option to alternate between sitting
and standing with the option to alternate twice per hour
without losing productivity. He is also limited to occasional
postural movements except he cannot climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. He is also limited to routine, repetitive tasks
that involve occasional decision making and only occasional
changes to the work duties throughout the day.
(Tr. 26). In response to hypotheticals that factored in
Plaintiff's work experience, current conditions, and RFC,
the vocational expert (“VE”) testified that
Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work but could
perform other jobs (Addresser, Document Preparer, Waxer) that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr.
63-64). As a result, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not
disabled, as defined under the Social Security Act, at any
time from June 1, 2012, the alleged onset date, through
December 31, 2014, the date last insured (20 CFR
404.1520(g)). (Tr. 34).
has exhausted all administrative remedies and now appeals
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review
of that decision. The issue is whether the claimant is
disabled under 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
405(g) of Title 42 of the United States Code authorizes this
Court to review the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security to deny social security benefits. A reviewing
court must uphold the ALJ's decision when (1) the ALJ has
applied correct legal standards and (2) substantial evidence
supports the factual findings. 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. When examining a disability
determination, a reviewing court may not re-weigh conflicting
evidence or make credibility determinations as “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 Secretary if his decision
is supported by substantial evidence.” Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).
Commissioner must have applied the correct legal standard.
Bird, 699 F.3d at 340. The Commissioner uses a
five-step procedure for social security claims. 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 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
Cir. 2016). At the end of the third step, the Commissioner
determines 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 fails to meet
a listed disability. Id. To succeed at the fourth
step, the claimant must show his inability to perform past
work. Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 635 (4th Cir.
2015). If successful, 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