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Miller v. Berryhill

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

July 24, 2018

DARRELL WAYNE MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Dennis L. Howell United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment (# 11, 15).[1] Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his claim for disability benefits. The issues have been fully briefed, and the matter is now ripe for ruling. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment is granted.

         I. Procedural Background

         On May 1, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental security income. (Transcript of Administrative Record (“T.”) 17.) Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of January 1, 2013.[2] (T. 17.) The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claim initially on December 3, 2013. (T. 17.) The claim was denied upon reconsideration on April 8, 2014. (T. 17.) On May 12, 2014, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing. (T. 17.)

         On April 28, 2016, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) conducted a video hearing. (T. 17.) Plaintiff appeared in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and the ALJ presided over the hearing from Greensboro, North Carolina. (T. 17.) Nancy N. Hughes, a vocational expert (“VE”), testified at the hearing via telephone. (T. 17.) Plaintiff was represented by William Coleman, an attorney. (T. 17.)

         On August 4, 2016, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim in a written decision. (T. 17-28.) Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision. (T. 7.) On June 6, 2017, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. (T. 7-9.) On June 30, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant action seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision. See Compl. (# 1).

         II. Standard for Determining Disability

         An individual is disabled for purposes of receiving disability payments if he or she 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); accord Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). The Commissioner undertakes a five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled. Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam). Under the five-step sequential evaluation, the Commissioner must consider each of the following, in sequence: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful employment; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment is sufficiently severe to meet or medically equal the severity of one or more of the listing of impairments contained in Appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P; (4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is able to perform any other work considering his or her age, education, and residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; Mastro, 270 F.3d at 177; Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653 n.1.

         At the first two steps of the sequential evaluation, the burden is on the claimant to make the requisite showing. Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 179 (4th Cir. 2016). If a claimant fails to satisfy his or her burden at either of these first two steps, the ALJ will determine that the claimant is not disabled and the process comes to an end. Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015). The burden remains on the claimant at step three to demonstrate that the claimant's impairments satisfy a listed impairment and, thereby, establish disability. Monroe, 826 F.3d at 179.

         If the claimant fails to satisfy his or her burden at step three, however, then the ALJ must still determine the claimant's RFC. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635. After determining the claimant's RFC, the ALJ proceeds to step four in order to determine whether the claimant can perform his or her past relevant work. Id. The burden is on the claimant to demonstrate that he or she is unable to perform past work. Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. If the ALJ determines that a claimant is not capable of performing past work, then the ALJ proceeds to step five. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635.

         At step five, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant can perform other work. Id. The burden rests with the Commissioner at step five to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the claimant is capable of performing other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, taking into account the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. Id.; Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. Typically, the Commissioner satisfies her burden at step five through the use of the testimony of a VE, who offers testimony in response to a hypothetical question from the ALJ that incorporates the claimant's limitations. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635; Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. If the Commissioner satisfies her burden at step five, then the ALJ will find that the claimant is not disabled and deny the application for disability benefits. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635; Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         In his August 4, 2016 decision, the ALJ ultimately concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled under section 1614(a)(3)(4) of the Social Security Act. (T. 28.) In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ made the following specific findings:

(1) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 1, 2013, the application date (20 C.F.R. § 416.971 et seq.).[3]
(2) The claimant has the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis and allied disorders, as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (also appearing in the record as emphysema) (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c)).[4]
(3) The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).
(4) The claimant has the RFC to perform medium work as defined in C.F.R. ยง 416.967(c), except he can occasionally lift 50 pounds, frequently lift 25 pounds, and carry the same amount. He can sit for six hours, stand for six hours, and walk for six hours out of an eight-hour workday. The claimant can push and pull as much as he can lift and carry. There are no limitations with right or left foot controls and right or left hand controls. The claimant has no limits with reaching overhead and reaching in all other directions. The claimant has no limits in his ability to handle, finger, and feel with the right and left extremities. The claimant has the ability to frequently climb ramps and stairs, frequently climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, frequently balance, frequently stoop, frequently kneel, frequently crouch, and frequently crawl. The claimant has no limit to his ability to communicate or see. The claimant has no limit to exposure to unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, operating a motor vehicle, weather, humidity, and wetness. He can occasionally be exposed to dust, odors, fumes, and pulmonary irritants. The claimant can tolerate frequent exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, and vibration. The claimant has no limitation on exposure to very loud ...

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