United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION
KIMBERLY A. SWANK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the court on the parties' cross motions
for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Ricky Worthington
(Plaintiff) filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) seeking judicial review of the denial of his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). The time
for filing responsive briefs has expired, and the pending
motions are ripe for adjudication. Having carefully reviewed
the administrative record and the motions and memoranda
submitted by the parties, the undersigned recommends that
Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE #15]
be granted, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings [DE #18] be denied, and the Commissioner's
decision be remanded for further proceedings.
OF THE CASE
applied for a period of disability and DIB on January 14,
2014, with an alleged onset date of February 15, 2013. (R.
20, 189.) The application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration, and a request for hearing was filed. (R. 20,
90, 102, 125.) A hearing was held on May 24, 2016, before
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Larry A. Miller, who issued an
unfavorable ruling on July 20, 2016. (R. 20, 30.) The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 29,
2017. (R. 1.) Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final
administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Standard of Review
scope of judicial review of a final agency decision denying
disability benefits is limited to determining whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's factual
findings and whether the decision was reached through the
application of the correct legal standards. See Coffman
v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). Substantial
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; [i]t
consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be
somewhat less than a preponderance.” Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (first quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
then quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642
(4th Cir. 1966)) (citations omitted) (alteration in
original). “In reviewing for substantial evidence, [the
court should not] undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence,
make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment
for that of the [Commissioner].” Mastro v.
Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting
Craig, 76 F.3d at 589) (first and second alterations
in original). Rather, in conducting the “substantial
evidence” inquiry, the court determines whether the
Commissioner has considered all relevant evidence and
sufficiently explained the weight accorded to the evidence.
Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v. Akers, 131 F.3d 438,
439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).
making a disability determination, the Commissioner utilizes
a five-step evaluation process. The Commissioner asks,
sequentially, whether the claimant: (1) is engaged in
substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment;
(3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements
of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
App. 1; (4) can perform the requirements of past work; and,
if not, (5) based on the claimant's age, work experience,
and residual functional capacity can adjust to other work
that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); Albright v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2
(4th Cir. 1999). The burden of proof and production during
the first four steps of the inquiry rests on the claimant.
Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995).
At the fifth step, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
show that other work exists in the national economy that the
claimant can perform. Id.
the five-step, sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found
Plaintiff “not disabled” as defined in the Social
Security Act. At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful employment since February 15,
2013, the alleged onset date. (R. 22.) Next, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
“diabetes mellitus; obesity; lumbar degenerative disc
disease; osteoarthritis, knees; and depression.”
three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's impairments
were not severe enough, either individually or in
combination, to meet or medically equal one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R.
22.) The ALJ specifically discussed Listing 1.02 (major
dysfunction of a joint), Listing 12.04 (depressive, bipolar,
and related disorders), and listings in section 9.00
(endocrine disorders) in conjunction with SSR 14-2p, 2014 WL
2472008 (June 2, 2014) (guidance on diabetes). (R.
to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (RFC) and found that Plaintiff
the residual functional capacity to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). [Plaintiff] can lift, carry,
push and pull 20 pounds frequently and 10 pounds
occasionally. He can sit 6 hours in an 8-hour day and stand
and/or walk 6 hours in an 8-hour day. [Plaintiff] would need
a sit/stand option, changing from sitting to standing every
30 minutes. Balancing on narrow, slippery, or moving
surfaces, climbing, stooping, crouching, kneeling and
crawling would be limited to occasionally. [Plaintiff] is
limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks (i.e., can
apply commonsense understanding to carry out instructions
furnished in written, oral, or diagrammatic form and deal
with problems involving ...