United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
D. WHITNEY CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Carla Craig's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) and Defendant
Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A.
Berryhill's (“Defendant”) Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 17). Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks
judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on
her application for Disability Insurance Benefits under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons that follow,
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED, and
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
Craig (“Plaintiff”) filed an application for
disability and disability insurance benefits on November 22,
2013 (Tr. 24, 38), alleging disability since January 1, 2008.
(Tr. 24, 165). Plaintiff's application was initially
denied on April 15, 2014 (Tr. 99) and denied again at
reconsideration on June 2, 2014 (Tr. 108). Plaintiff filed a
request for a hearing on June 19, 2014. (Tr. 24). An
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) conducted the
hearing in Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 24, 2016. (Tr.
128, 141). The ALJ denied Craig's application in a
written decision dated August 3, 2016. (Tr. 21).
reaching her decision, the ALJ used the five-step sequential
evaluation process for the evaluation of claims for
disability under the Act. (Tr. 25-38); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). At step one of the process, the ALJ found
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the Plaintiff's application date, November 22,
2013. (Tr. 26). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: “hypertension, obesity,
right knee degenerative joint disease, degenerative disc
disease, bipolar disorder, depression, and post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD)[.]” (Tr. 26). At step three, the
ALJ found Plaintiff did “not have an impairment or
combination of impairments” that met or medically
equaled any of the Listings found in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart
P, App. 1. (Tr. 27).
the ALJ determined Plaintiff:
has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as
defined in 20 [§] CFR 416.967(b) except she would need
to alternate between sitting and standing, up to two times
each hour. She can frequently, but not continuously perform
all postural activities, but should avoid workplace hazards,
such as ladders, ropes, scaffolds, unprotected heights, and
machinery with dangerous parts. She can maintain occasional
public contact or interactions and can otherwise frequently,
but not continuously, interact with coworkers and
supervisors. She can follow short simple instructions, not
detailed, and perform detailed tasks, but no work requiring a
production rate or demand pace. She should avoid crisis
situations[, ] complex decision making[, ] or constant
changes in routine setting. Stay on task, sustaining
attention and concentration for two hours at a time, and
would need one to two additional five min[ute] rest breaks.
(Tr. 29). Also, at step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff could
no longer perform any of her past relevant work. (Tr. 37). At
step five, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's RFC, age,
education, work experience, the Vocational Expert's
(“VE”) testimony, and information provided by the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”), and
found that in light of those factors, Plaintiff could perform
other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy. (Tr. 37). Accordingly, the ALJ decided Plaintiff was
not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 38).
28, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
to review the hearing decision. (Tr. 1). Therefore, the
ALJ's August 3, 2016, decision became the final decision
of the Commissioner. Subsequently, Plaintiff brought this
action and the parties filed motions for summary judgement.
The motions are now ripe for review.
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(a). 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. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a);
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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4)). The claimant bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four, but the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. See Lewis, 858 F.3d at
861; Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 179-80 (4th
the claimant fails to demonstrate she has a disability that
meets or medically equals a listed impairment at step three,
the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to step four,
which is ‘the most [the claimant] can still do despite
[her physical and mental] limitations [that affect h[er]
ability to work].'” Lewis, 858 F.3d at
861-62 (quoting 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1),
416.945(a)(1)). In Lewis, the Fourth Circuit
explained the considerations applied before moving to step
[The RFC] determination requires the ALJ to “first
identify the individual's functional limitations or
restrictions and assess his or her work-related abilities on
a function-by-function basis, including the functions listed
in the regulations.” Mascio, 780 F.3d at 636
(internal quotations omitted); see also SSR 96-8p,
1996 WL 374184, at *1 (July 2, 1996). Once the
function-by-function analysis is complete, an ALJ may define
the claimant's RFC “in terms of the exertional
levels of work, sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very
heavy.” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1. See
generally 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567, 416.967
(defining “sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very
heavy” exertional requirements of work).
When assessing the claimant's RFC, the ALJ must examine
“all of [the claimant's] medically determinable
impairments of which [the ALJ is] aware, ” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1525(a)(2), 416.925(a)(2), “including
those not labeled severe at step two.” Mascio,
780 F.3d at 635. In addition, he must “consider all
[the claimant's] symptoms, including pain, and the extent
to which [her] symptoms can reasonably be accepted as
consistent with the objective medical evidence and other
evidence, ” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(a),
416.929(a). “When the medical signs or laboratory
findings show that [the claimant has] a medically
determinable impairment(s) that could reasonably be expected
to produce [her] symptoms, such as pain, [the ALJ] must then