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Hough v. Berryhill

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

June 26, 2018

DAVID G. HOUGH, JR., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge

         THIS 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 Benefits (“DIB”).

         Upon 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff 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).

         The ALJ 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.

         The ALJ 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).

         Plaintiff 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. (Tr. 22).


         Section 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).

         The 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 ...

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