United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
L. Howell United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
Remand [# 10] and the parties cross-Motions for Summary
Judgment [# 13, # 17]. 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 ripe for ruling. For the reasons below, the Court will
grant the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [#
17] and deny the Plaintiff's Motion for Remand [# 10] and
Motion Summary Judgment [# 10].
February 5, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed applications
for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits,
and supplemental security income. (T. 29)Plaintiff alleged
a disability onset date of November 30, 2010. (T. 29) On
April 7, 2014, the Social Security Administration initially
denied Plaintiff's claims. (T. 29) On August 6, 2014,
Plaintiff's claims were denied upon reconsideration. (T.
29) On September 19, 2014, Plaintiff filed a written request
for a hearing. (T. 29)
January 6, 2016, a video hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in Kingsport,
Tennessee. (T. 29) Plaintiff, with his attorney Derrick
Bailey, appeared via video in Asheville, North Carolina. (T.
29) On January 26, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding
that Plaintiff was not disabled from February 5, 2014,
through the date of the decision. (T. 41) Plaintiff requested
review of the ALJ's decision. (T. 25) The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T. 6-11) On April
18, 2017, Plaintiff filed this action seeking review of the
Commissioner's final decision. [See Compl. # 1].
Standard for Determining Disability
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 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
exceed the severity of one or more of the listing of
impairments contained in Appendix I 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. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653 n.1.;
Mastro, 270 F.3d at 177.
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 ends. Mascio v. Colvin, 780
F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015).
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, the ALJ must still, however, determine
the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635. After
determining the claimant's RFC, the ALJ proceeds to step
four 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.
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 can perform other work that exists
in significant numbers in the national economy considering
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 using the
testimony of a vocational expert (“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.
The ALJ's Decision
January 21, 2016, decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
was not disabled under Sections 216(i), 233(d), and
1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. (T. 29) In support
of this conclusion, the ALJ made the following specific
(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2014.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since November 30, 2010, the alleged onset date (20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments: a left
knee disorder; hernias; depression; anxiety-related
disorders; and a history of substance abuse (20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c)).
(4) 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. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) with occasional postural
activities; unlimited balancing; occasional pushing/pulling
with both upper extremities; occasional use of foot controls
with both lower extremities; avoid concentrated exposure to
hazards; limited to simple, routine, repetitive work;
frequent contact with co-workers and supervisors; and no
(6) The claimant is unable to perform past relevant work (20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1565, 416.965).
(7) The claimant was born on May 3, 1966 and was 44 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on
the on the alleged disability onset date ...