United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings [DE 18, 21]. The motions have
been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. A hearing on
this matter was held in Elizabeth City, North Carolina on
March 5, 2019. For the reasons discussed below, plaintiffs
motion for judgment on the pleadings [DE 18] is GRANTED and
defendant's motion [DE 21] is DENIED.
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3) for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner denying his claim supplemental social security
income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.
Plaintiff filed his application on September 4, 2014,
alleging disability dating back to November 22, 2013.
Plaintiffs application was denied both initially and upon
reconsideration. A hearing was held before an administrative
law judge (ALJ) on April 25, 2016. The ALJ issued a decision
on April 27, 2016, finding that plaintiff was not disabled.
In April 2017, the Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request
for review, making the ALJ's decision the final
administrative decision of the Commissioner.
2017, plaintiff filed the complaint at issue, seeking
judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision
under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). [DE 7].
In December 2017, plaintiff moved for judgment on the
pleadings. [DE 18]. Defendant moved for judgment on the
pleadings in February 2018. [DE 21].
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3), this Court's review of the Commissioner's
decision is limited to determining whether the decision, as a
whole, is supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner employed the correct legal standard.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Substantial 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) (per curiam) (internal quotation and
citation omitted). Courts should not make their own
credibility determinations or substitute their own judgments
for the judgments of the ALJs. Radford v. Colvin,
734 F.3d 288, 296 (4th Cir. 2013).
individual is considered disabled if he is unable "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
[twelve] months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The
Act further provides that 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 line of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
issued by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be followed in a disability case. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). In making
a disability determination, the ALJ engages in a sequential
five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520;
see Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653. At step one, if the
claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. At step two, the claim is
denied if the claimant does not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments significantly limiting him or her
from performing basic work activities. At step three, the
claimant's impairment is compared to those in the Listing
of Impairments (Listing). See 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, App. 1. If the impairment is included in the
Listing or is equivalent to a listed impairment, disability
is conclusively presumed. If the claimant's impairment
does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the analysis
proceeds to step four, where the claimant's residual
functional capacity is assessed to determine whether
plaintiff can perform his past work despite his impairments.
If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the
analysis moves on to step five: establishing whether the
claimant, based on his age, work experience, and residual
functional capacity can perform other substantial gainful
work. The burden of proof is on the claimant for the first
four steps of this inquiry, but shifts to the Commissioner at
the fifth step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203
(4th Cir. 1995). The claimant bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four, but the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). If a decision regarding disability
can be made at any step of the process, then the inquiry
ceases. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
the analysis ended at step five when the ALJ considered
plaintiffs residual functional capacity and determined that,
although plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant
work . activities, he was able to perform other jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy. The
ALJ concluded that plaintiff had severe impairments that did
not meet or equal any Listings and that plaintiff was capable
of performing light work with some exertional limitations.
Court finds that the ALJ committed reversible error in
failing to identify and reasonably explain an apparent
conflict between the testimony of the vocational expert (VE)
and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). In
particular, the ALJ relied upon VE testimony that plaintiffs
RFC-which included the limitation that plaintiff "could
occasionally engage in overhead reaching
bilaterally"-allowed him to work as a final inspector,
mail clerk, and table worker. [Tr. 31, 39-40]. The ALJ
certified under SSR 00-4p that the VE's testimony was
consistent with the DOT. [Tr. 39]. But all three jobs, as
described in the DOT, require frequent reaching. See
DOT §§ 209.687-026; 521.687-102; 727.687-054
(Dep't of Labor 1977); see also Selected
Characteristics of Occupations as Defined in the Revised
Dictionary of Occupational Titles, §§ 06.02.02;
07.05.04 (Dep't of Labor 1993). The ALJ failed to explain
this apparent conflict, despite asking the VE whether any
Pearson v. Colvin, 810 F.3d 204 (4th Cir. 2015), the
Fourth Circuit remanded a similar case in which the ALJ had
not explained an apparent conflict between the VE's
testimony and the DOT. Consistent with Pearson, and
given the ALJ's failure to reasonably explain the
apparent conflict between the VE testimony and the DOT, this
matter must be remanded to the Commissioner for further
proceedings. Plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings
is, therefore, granted. On remand, all relevant evidence must
be considered in reassessing whether plaintiff is disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
conducted a full review of the record and decision in this
matter, the Court concludes that remand is appropriate.
Accordingly, plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings
[DE 18] is GRANTED and defendant's motion [DE 21] is
DENIED. The decision of the ALJ is REVERSED and the ...