United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
J. Conrad, Jr., United States District Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on the parties'
cross Motions for Summary Judgment, (Doc. Nos. 9, 14);
Plaintiff's Motion for Remand, (Doc. No. 17), and the
parties' briefs and exhibits in support. The motions are
ripe for adjudication.
February 16, 2009, at the age of twenty-two, Johnathan Kevin
Howell (“Plaintiff”) was found to be disabled as
of August 23, 2008 and was awarded disability insurance
benefits. (Doc. No. 6-1: Administrative Record
(“Tr.”) at 74). Subsequently, the Social Security
Administration determined that Plaintiff was no longer
disabled as of August 1, 2015. Plaintiff appealed this
finding and, after a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) determined that Plaintiff experienced
medical improvement such that he no longer qualified as
disabled. (Tr. 11-22). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review of this decision. (Tr.
1-5). After having exhausted his administrative remedies,
Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of Defendant's denial
of his social security claim in this Court.
question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff's
disability had ended under Section 223(f) of the Social
Security Act (“SSA”). (Tr. 11). To qualify for
disability benefits, a claimant must show that 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 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). In a typical
social security case, when the issue is whether a claimant is
disabled and should therefore be granted Social Security
benefits in the first place, an ALJ applies a five-step
sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2018). “Once a claimant
has been found disabled under the [SSA], a presumption of
continuing disability arises.” Sykes v.
Colvin, No. 5:15-CV-00228-RN, 2016 WL 3129174, at *2
(E.D. N.C. June 2, 2016) (citing Bellamy v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 755 F.2d 1380, 1381 (9th Cir.
1985)). The Commissioner may not terminate benefits unless
substantial evidence demonstrates sufficient medical
improvement in a claimant's impairments such that the
claimant is able to engage in substantial gainful activity.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382c(a)(4)(A), 423(f);
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594, 416.994 (2017). To determine
if Plaintiff continues to be disabled, the ALJ must follow an
eight-step evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §
reviewing Plaintiff's record and conducting a hearing,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff was no longer disabled as of
August 1, 2015. (Tr. 22). In reaching his conclusion, the ALJ
used the eight-step sequential evaluation process established
by the Social Security Administration for determining if a
claimant continues to be disabled. The eight steps are as
(1) Is the claimant presently engaged in substantial gainful
activity? If so, and any applicable trial work period has
been completed, the claimant's disability ends. If not,
proceed to step two.
(2) Does the claimant have an impairment, or combination of
impairments, which meets or equals an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, the
claimant's disability continues. If not, proceed to step
(3) Has there been medical improvement as shown by a decrease
in the medical severity of the impairment(s) present at the
time of the CPD? If so, proceed to step four. If not,
proceed to step five.
(4) Was any medical improvement related to the ability to
work (i.e., has there been an increase in the claimant's
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”))? If so,
proceed to step six. If not, proceed to step five.
(5) Is there an exception to medical improvement? If not, the
claimant's disability continues. If an exception from the
first group of exceptions to medical improvement applies
(i.e., substantial evidence shows that the claimant has
benefited from “advances in medical or vocational
therapy or technology” or “undergone vocational
therapy” if either is “related to [the] ability
to work”), see 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1594(d) & 416.994(b)(3), proceed to step six. If an
exception from the second group applies (i.e., disability
determination was fraudulently obtained, claimant was
uncooperative, unable to be found, or failed to follow
prescribed treatment, see 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1594(e) & 416.994(b)(4), the claimant's
(6) Is the claimant's current combination of impairments
severe? If so, proceed to step seven. If not, the
claimant's disability ends.
(7) Does the claimant possess the [RFC] to perform
claimant's past relevant work? If so, the claimant's
disability ends. If not, proceed to step eight.
(8) Does the claimant's [RFC], when considered with the
claimant's age, education, and work experience, allow the
claimant to do other work? If so, the claimant's
disability ends. If ...