United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
PATRICIA M. COX, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Patricia Cox's
(“Plaintiff”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.
No. 11) filed on November 6, 2017, and Defendant Acting
Commissioner of Social Security's
(“Commissioner” or “Defendant”)
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 15) filed on February
2, 2018. Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review of
an unfavorable administrative decision on her application for
Supplemental Social Security Income (“SSI”).
reasons set forth, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion
for Summary Judgment, DENIES Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment, and REMANDS this matter pursuant to
Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for proceedings
consistent with this Order.
applied for SSI benefits under Title XVI on December 20,
2012, alleging disability beginning November 16, 2011. (Tr.
18, 122). Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on May
21, 2013 (Tr. 117), and then was denied again upon
reconsideration on December 23, 2013 (Tr. 127). Plaintiff
filed a request for an administrative hearing on January 24,
2014 (Tr. 137), and a hearing was conducted with
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) via video
conference on September 11, 2015 (Tr. 171, 191). At the
initial hearing, the ALJ scheduled a supplemental hearing for
April 20, 2016, so additional consultative exam reports could
be filed. (Tr. 41, 201, 221). On May 4, 2016, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable written decision finding Plaintiff not
disabled. (Tr. 15).
ALJ's decision found Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity from the application date
through the date of the decision and that she had the
following severe impairments: major depressive disorder,
panic attacks, epilepsy, and back pain. (Tr. 20). The ALJ
determined that none of these impairments nor any combination
of the impairments met or medically equaled a per se disabled
medical listing under 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart. P, App. 1.
then found Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR § 416.967(b):
[E]xcept she can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently. She will be able to push and pull as much
as she can lift and carry. The [Plaintiff] will be able to
sit, stand, and walk for 6 hours in an eight-hour workday.
She will be able to stoop frequently. The claimant c[an]
never operate a motor vehicle. She will be able to
understand, remember and carry out instructions and she is
limited to perform simple, routine tasks. The [Plaintiff]
will be able to frequently respond appropriately to
supervisors and occasionally respond appropriately to
coworkers and the public. With respect to dealing with
changes in the work setting, she will be limited to simple
(Tr. 24). In determining Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ
assigned great weight to the opinion of Dr. Lori Schneider
(“Schneider”) and Dr. Walter McNulty
(“McNulty”). (Tr. 28-29). Both Schneider and
McNulty reported one of the reasons they were seeing
Plaintiff was for Plaintiff's attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”) and learning
disabilities. (Tr. 677, 683). Schneider recorded Plaintiff
having ADHD and learning disabilities (Tr. 685) while McNulty
said it was “unclear whether or not [Plaintiff] would
meet the formal diagnostic criteria for [ADHD] at this
point.” (Tr. 680). In listing Plaintiff's
medications, neither Schneider or McNulty noted Plaintiff
taking any ADHD medications. (Tr. 678, 684). McNulty found
Plaintiff was moderately impaired in her motivation, ability
to tolerate stress, and ability to tolerate the stress and
pressures associated with day-to-day work activity, while her
ability to relate to coworkers and supervisors was at least
mildly impaired. (Tr. 681).
response to a hypothetical that factored in Plaintiff's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, the vocational
expert ("VE") testified that such an individual can
perform jobs in the national economy that exist in
significant numbers. (Tr. 31). Thus, the ALJ concluded
Plaintiff was not disabled, as defined under the Social
Security Act. (Tr. 32). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a request
for review with the Appeals Council on June 27, 2016, which
was denied on April 26, 2017. (Tr. 1-2). Plaintiff has
exhausted all administrative remedies and now appeals the
Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
405(g) of Title 42 of the United States Code provides
judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's
denial of social security benefits. When examining a
disability determination, a reviewing court is required to
uphold the determination when an ALJ has applied correct
legal standards and the ALJ's factual findings are
supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Westmoreland Coal Co., Inc. v. Cochran, 718 F.3d
319, 322 (4th Cir. 2013); Bird v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012). A reviewing
court may not re-weigh conflicting evidence or make
credibility determinations because “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 the Secretary if his
decision is supported by substantial evidence.”
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir.
2005) (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted).
“It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence
but may be less than a preponderance.” Pearson v.
Colvin, 810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Courts do not reweigh evidence or
make credibility determinations in evaluating whether a
decision is supported by substantial evidence; “[w]here
conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ,
” courts defer to the ALJ's decision.
Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653.
order to establish entitlement to benefits, a claimant must
provide evidence of a medically determinable impairment that
precludes returning to past relevant work and adjustment to
other work.” Flesher v. Berryhill, 697
Fed.Appx. 212 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1508, 404.1520(g)). In evaluating a disability claim, the
Commissioner uses a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. 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 Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th
Cir. 2015)); 20 C.F.R. ...