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Bailey v. Berryhill

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

March 12, 2019

JAMES L. BAILEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 15). Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on her application for Supplemental Social Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).

         Having reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative record, and applicable authority, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, DENIES Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, VACATES the Commissioner's decision and REMANDS this matter pursuant to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)[1] for proceedings consistent with this Order.

         I. Background

         On August 13, 2013, Plaintiff James Bailey filed applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Act and supplemental security income under title XVI of the Act alleging disability since April 30, 2012. (Tr. 316, 323). These claims were denied initially on February 25, 2014, and upon reconsideration on July 9, 2014. (Tr. 262, 266). Thereafter, the claimant filed a request for hearing on September 11, 2015. (Tr. 254). The hearing commenced on October 20, 2016. Administrative Law Judge Clinton C. Hicks (“ALJ”) conducted the hearing in Charlotte, N.C. (Tr. 158). The ALJ denied Bailey's applications in a written decision dated February 22, 2017. (Tr. 118).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 132). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date and that he had severe impairments of cervical and lumbar spine degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, neuropathy, asthma, bipolar disorder with depression and anxiety with panic attacks. (Tr. 123). The ALJ determined that these impairments did not meet or medically equal a per se disabled medical listing under 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. (Tr. 124). The ALJ then found Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform:

light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.156(b) and 416.067(b) except he is limited to no climbing of ladders, roofs, or scaffolds; occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; the option to sit/stand with the ability to change positions twice per hour; no concentrated exposure to extreme heat, cold, or humidity and no concentrated exposures to dust, odors, gases, and pulmonary irritants. Additionally, [Plaintiff] is limited to unskilled work in a low stress environment, which is defined as no constant change in routine, no crisis situations, no complex decision-making, and no production rate work; simple routine and repetitive tasks; occasional interaction with the public and the ability to stay on tasks for two hours at a time throughout the workday.”

(Tr. 125).

         In response to a hypothetical that factored in the above limitations, a vocational expert (“VE”) identified various jobs Plaintiff could perform that were available in significant numbers in the economy. (Tr. 187-88). Based on this RFC and the vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff could work as electronics worker (DOT 726.687-010), laundry folder (DOT 369.687-018), and inspector/hand packager (DOT 559.687-074). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 132).

         Bailey requested a review of this hearing decision and on October 2, 2017, this request was denied by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 118). Therefore, the ALJ's decision dated February 22, 2017, became the final decision of the Acting Commissioner. (Tr. 1). Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. §§405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of that decision.

         II. Standard of Review

         A. Review of a Social Security Appeal

         When reviewing a Social Security disability determination, a reviewing court must “uphold the determination when an ALJ has applied correct legal standards and the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence.” Bird v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is that which “a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted). It “consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be less than a preponderance.” Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). In reviewing the record for substantial evidence, the Court does “not undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute our judgment for that of the ALJ. Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the ALJ.” Id. (brackets, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted).

         In considering an application for disability benefits, an ALJ uses a five-step sequential process to evaluate the disability claim. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). 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. ยงยง 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4)). The ...

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