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Damon v. Berryhill

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

July 29, 2018

LEON ANTHONY DAMON, 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 [# 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 Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [# 13] and deny the Commissioner's Motion Summary Judgment [# 17].

         I. Procedural Background

         On April 15, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. (T. 26)[1] Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of November 1, 2013. (T. 26) On June 26, 2013, the Social Security Administration initially denied Plaintiff's claims. (T. 26) On September 13, 2013, Plaintiff's claims were denied upon reconsideration. (T. 26) On October 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing. (T. 26)

         On July 14, 2015, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in Charlotte, North Carolina. (T. 26) Plaintiff was present with his attorney Bradford D. Myler. (T. 26) On August 31, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled from November 1, 2013, through the date of the decision. (T. 36) Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision. (T. 21) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T. 5-7) On April 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed this 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 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.

         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 ends. 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, 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.

         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 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. Id.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         In the August 31, 2015, 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. 26, 36) In support of this conclusion, the ALJ made the following specific findings:

(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2016.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 e ...

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