United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
KIMBERLY A. SWANK United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the court on the parties' cross motions
for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the parties having
consented to proceed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
Marilyn Bellamy (“Plaintiff”) filed this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review
of the denial of her applications for disability and
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). The time
for filing responsive briefs has expired, and the pending
motions are ripe for adjudication. On July 12, 2018, the
court held oral argument in the matter. The court has
carefully reviewed the administrative record and the motions
and memoranda submitted by the parties. For the reasons set
forth below, the court grants Plaintiff's Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings [DE #16], denies Defendant's
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE #20], and remands
the matter to the Commissioner pursuant to sentence four of
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further proceedings.
OF THE CASE
applied for a period of disability and DIB on July 22, 2013,
with an alleged onset date of November 8, 2012. (R. 88, 97.)
Plaintiff later amended the onset date to March 15, 2013,
Plaintiff's fiftieth birthdate. (R. 18, 39.) The
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration,
and a request for hearing was filed. (R. 87- 96, 99-113,
128.) A hearing was held on September 15, 2016, before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Tammy Georgian,
who issued an unfavorable ruling on December 15, 2016. (R.
18-30, 36-66.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review on September 14, 2017. (R. 1-5.) At that
time, the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of
the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. On
October 9, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant civil action,
seeking judicial review of the final administrative decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Standard of Review
scope of judicial review of a final agency decision denying
disability benefits 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). Substantial
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; [i]t
consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be
somewhat less than a preponderance.” Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), and
Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir.
1966)) (citations omitted) (alteration in original).
“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, 76
F.3d at 589) (first and second alterations in original).
Rather, in conducting the “substantial evidence”
inquiry, the court determines whether the Commissioner has
considered all relevant evidence and sufficiently explained
the weight accorded to the evidence. Sterling Smokeless
Coal Co. v. Akers, 131 F.3d 438, 439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).
making a disability determination, the Commissioner utilizes
a five-step evaluation process. The Commissioner asks,
sequentially, whether the claimant: (1) is engaged in
substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment;
(3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements
of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
App. 1; (4) can perform the requirements of past work; and,
if not, (5) based on the claimant's age, work experience,
and residual functional capacity can adjust to other work
that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); Albright v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2
(4th Cir. 1999). The burden of proof and production during
the first four steps of the inquiry rests on the claimant.
Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th. Cir. 1995).
At the fifth step, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
show that other work exists in the national economy that the
claimant can perform. Id. “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.
the five-step, sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found
Plaintiff “not disabled” as defined in the Social
Security Act. At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful employment since March 15,
2013, the amended alleged onset date. (R. 20.) Next, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
“degenerative joint disease of the shoulder status post
arthroscopy, and cervical degenerative disc disease.”
(Id.) The ALJ found Plaintiff's hypertension,
hypothyroidism, and obesity to be non-severe impairments and
Plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrome and history of
treatment for her right finger fracture insufficient to
constitute medically determinable impairments. (R. 20-22.)
three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff'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, App. 1. (R.
22.) The ALJ analyzed Listings 1.02 (major dysfunction of a
joint) and 1.04 (disorders of the spine). (Id.)
to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and found
that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity “to
perform the full range of medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
404.1567(c).” (R. 22.) In making this assessment, the
ALJ found Plaintiff's statements concerning the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her symptoms
“not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and
other evidence in the record.” (R. 24.) At step four,
the ALJ concluded Plaintiff is able to perform her past
relevant work as “a pork skinner and dual hand
packager.” (R. 28.) Alternatively, the ALJ
concluded that there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform
and that application of Medical-Vocational Rule 203.22
directs “a finding of ‘not disabled.'”