United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION
B. Jones, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings [DE-15, -21] pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Claimant James Matthews
("Claimant") filed this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial
review of the denial of his applications for a period of
disability, Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"),
and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") payments.
The time for filing responsive briefing has expired, and the
pending motions are ripe for adjudication. Having carefully
reviewed the administrative record and the motions and
memoranda submitted by the parties, it is recommended that
Claimant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings be
allowed, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
be denied, and the matter be remanded to the Commissioner for
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
filed applications for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI
on April 23, 2014, alleging disability beginning May 1, 2012.
(R. 16, 182-90). The claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. (R. 16, 61-102). A hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was held on
December 19, 2016, at which Claimant, represented by counsel;
a witness; and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared
and testified. (R. 31-60). On February 23, 2017, the ALJ
issued a decision denying Claimant's request for
benefits. (R. 13-30). On December 29, 2017, the Appeals
Council denied Claimant's request for review. (R. 1-5).
Claimant then filed a complaint in this court seeking review
of the now-final administrative decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of judicial review of a final agency decision regarding
disability benefits under the Social Security Act
("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq., is
limited to determining whether substantial evidence supports
the Commissioner's factual findings and whether the
decision was reached through the application of the correct
legal standards. See Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514,
517 (4th Cir. 1987). "The findings of the Commissioner
... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence,
shall be conclusive . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence is "evidence which a reasoning mind
would accept as sufficient to support a particular
conclusion." Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640,
642 (4th Cir. 1966). While substantial evidence is not a
"large or considerable amount of evidence,"
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988), it is
"more than a mere scintilla . . . and somewhat less than
a preponderance." Laws, 368 F.2d at 642.
"In reviewing for substantial evidence, [the court
should not] undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make
credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for
that of the [Commissioner]." Mastro v. Apfel,
270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996), superseded
by regulation on other grounds, 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(d)(2)). Rather, in conducting the "substantial
evidence" inquiry, the court's review is limited to
whether the ALJ analyzed the relevant evidence and
sufficiently explained his or her findings and rationale in
crediting the evidence. Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v.
Akers, 131 F.3d 438, 439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).
DISABILITY EVALUATION PROCESS
disability determination is based on a five-step sequential
evaluation process as set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520 and 416.920 under which the ALJ is to evaluate a
The claimant (1) must not be engaged in "substantial
gainful activity," i.e., currently working; and (2) must
have a "severe" impairment that (3) meets or
exceeds [in severity] the "listings" of specified
impairments, or is otherwise incapacitating to the extent
that the claimant does not possess the residual functional
capacity to (4) perform ... past work or'(5) any other
Albright v. Comm'r of the SSA, 174 F.3d 473, 475
n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). "If an applicant's claim fails
at any step of the process, the ALJ need not advance to the
subsequent steps." Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d
1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). The burden of
proof and production during the first four steps of the
inquiry rests on the claimant. Id. At the fifth
step, the burden shifts to the ALJ to show that other work
exists in the national economy which the claimant can
assessing the severity of mental impairments, the ALJ must do
so in accordance with the "special technique"
described in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a(b)-(c) and
416.920a(b)-(c). This regulatory scheme identifies four broad
functional areas in which the ALJ rates the degree of
functional limitation resulting from a claimant's mental
impairment(s): understand, remember, or apply information;
interact with others; concentrate, persist, or maintain pace;
and adapt or manage oneself. Id. §§
404.1520a(c)(3), 416.920a(c)(3). The ALJ is required to
incorporate into his written decision pertinent findings and
conclusions based on the "special technique."
Id. §§ 404.1520a(e)(3), 416.920a(e)(3).
case, Claimant alleges the ALJ erred by failing to perform a
function-by-function assessment of Claimant's ability to
walk and by failing to evaluate the medical necessity of
Claimant's assistive device. Pl.'s Mem. [DE-16] at
the above-described sequential evaluation process, the ALJ
found Claimant "not disabled" as defined in the
Act. At step one, the ALJ found Claimant had not engaged in
substantial gainful employment since the alleged onset date.
(R. 18). Next, the ALJ determined Claimant had the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, knee
osteoarthritis, neuropathy, and obesity. (R. 18-20). The ALJ
determined Claimant's sleep apnea and depression were
non-severe impairments. Id. At step three, the ALJ
concluded Claimant's impairments were not severe enough,
either individually or in combination, to meet or medically
equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 20). Applying the technique
prescribed by the regulations, the ALJ found that
Claimant's mental ...