United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION
E. Gates United States Magistrate Judge
action, plaintiff Ricardo Richards (“plaintiff”
or, in context, “claimant”) challenges the final
decision of defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security
Nancy A. Berryhill (“Commissioner”) denying his
applications for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) on the grounds that he is
not disabled. The case is before the court on the
parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings. D.E. 18,
22. Both filed memoranda in support of their respective
motions. D.E. 19, 23. The motions were referred to the
undersigned magistrate judge for a memorandum and
recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).
See 24 Oct. 2018 Text Ord. For the reasons set forth
below, it will be recommended that the Commissioner's
motion be granted, plaintiff's motion be denied, and the
Commissioner's decision be affirmed.
filed an application for DIB on 18 September 2014 and an
application for SSI on 14 July 2014, alleging in both a
disability onset date of 14 July 2014. Transcript of
Proceedings (“Tr.”) 15. The applications were
denied initially and upon reconsideration, and a request for
a hearing was timely filed. Tr. 15; 181-82. On 3 February
2017, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), at which plaintiff, represented by
counsel, and a vocational expert testified. Tr. 15; 30-74.
The ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claims on
23 February 2017. Tr. 15-24.
timely requested review by the Appeals Council. Tr. 218-19.
On 5 December 2017, the Appeals Council denied the request.
Tr. 1. At that time, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
416.1481. On 7 February 2018, plaintiff commenced this
proceeding for judicial review of the ALJ's decision,
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) (DIB) and
1383(c)(3) (SSI). See In Forma Pauperis
(“IFP”) Mot. (D.E. 1); Order Allowing IFP Mot.
(D.E. 4); Compl. (D.E. 5).
Standards for Disability
Social Security Act (“Act”) defines disability as
the “inability 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); see Id. § 1382c(a)(3)(A);
Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995).
“An individual shall be determined to be under a
disability only if his physical or mental impairment or
impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable
to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); see
Id. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The Act defines a physical or
mental impairment as “an impairment that results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” Id.
§§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).
disability regulations under the Act
(“Regulations”) provide a five-step analysis that
the ALJ must follow when determining whether a claimant is
To summarize, the ALJ asks at step one whether the claimant
has been working; at step two, whether the claimant's
medical impairments meet the [R]egulations' severity and
duration requirements; at step three, whether the medical
impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in the
[R]egulations; at step four, whether the claimant can perform
her past work given the limitations caused by her medical
impairments; and at step five, whether the claimant can
perform other work.
The first four steps create a series of hurdles for claimants
to meet. If the ALJ finds that the claimant has been working
(step one) or that the claimant's medical impairments do
not meet the severity and duration requirements of the
[R]egulations (step two), the process ends with a finding of
“not disabled.” At step three, the ALJ either
finds that the claimant is disabled because her impairments
match a listed impairment [i.e., a listing in 20
C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 (“the
Listings”)] or continues the analysis. The ALJ cannot
deny benefits at this step.
If the first three steps do not lead to a conclusive
determination, the ALJ then assesses the claimant's
residual functional capacity [“RFC”], which is
“the most” the claimant “can still do
despite” physical and mental limitations that affect
her ability to work. [20 C.F.R.] §
416.945(a)(1). To make this assessment, the ALJ
must “consider all of [the claimant's] medically
determinable impairments of which [the ALJ is] aware, ”
including those not labeled severe at step two. Id.
The ALJ then moves on to step four, where the ALJ can find
the claimant not disabled because she is able to perform her
past work. Or, if the exertion required for the
claimant's past work exceeds her [RFC], the ALJ goes on
to step five.
At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner 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. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v); 416.960(c)(2);
416.1429. The Commissioner typically offers
this evidence through the testimony of a vocational expert
responding to a hypothetical that incorporates the
claimant's limitations. If the Commissioner meets her
burden, the ALJ finds the claimant not disabled and denies
the application for benefits.
Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir.
2015) (some bracketing original).