United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
REIDINGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion for
Remand [Doc. 9] and Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 11],
and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc.
Plaintiff, Cynthia Louise Jenkins (“Plaintiff”),
filed applications for disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”)
and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act,
alleging an onset date of October 22, 2014. [Transcript
(“T.”) at 185]. The Plaintiff's application
was denied initially and upon reconsideration. [T. at 146,
159]. Upon Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held on
March 24, 2017 before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). [T. at 35-74]. Shortly before the
hearing, the Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to
October 31, 2015, the last date of Plaintiff's
employment. [T. at 353] On April 27, 2017, the ALJ issued a
written decision denying the Plaintiff benefits, finding that
the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act
since the alleged amended onset date October 31, 2015. [T. at
18-33]. The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's
request for review, thereby making the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Commissioner. [T. at 4-6]. The
Plaintiff has exhausted all available administrative
remedies, and this case is now ripe for review pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner is
limited to (1) whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's decision, Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); and (2) whether the Commissioner
applied the correct legal standards, Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).
“When examining [a Social Security Administration]
disability determination, a reviewing court is required to
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, 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012).
“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) (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).
reviewing for substantial evidence, [the Court should] not
undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the
ALJ.” Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653 (internal quotation
marks and alteration omitted). Rather, “[w]here
conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ,
” the Court defers to the ALJ's decision.
Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). To enable
judicial review for substantial evidence, “[t]he record
should include a discussion of which evidence the ALJ found
credible and why, and specific application of the pertinent
legal requirements to the record evidence.” Radford
v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2013).
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
“disability” entitling a claimant to benefits
under the Social Security Act, as relevant here, is
“[the] inability 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)(A). The Social Security Administration Regulations
set out a detailed five-step process for reviewing
applications for disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920; Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th
Cir. 2015). “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 is
on the claimant to make the requisite showing at the first
four steps. Id.
one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaged in
substantial gainful activity. If so, the claimant's
application is denied regardless of the medical condition,
age, education, or work experience of the claimant.
Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920). If not, the
case progresses to step two, where the claimant must show a
severe impairment. If the claimant does not show any physical
or mental deficiencies, or a combination thereof, which
significantly limit the claimant's ability to perform
work activities, then no severe impairment is established and
the claimant is not disabled. Id.
three, the ALJ must determine whether one or more of the
claimant's impairments meets or equals one of the listed
impairments (“Listings”) found at 20 C.F.R. 404,
Appendix 1 to Subpart P. If so, the claimant is automatically
deemed disabled regardless of age, education or work
experience. Id. If not, before proceeding to step
four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”). The RFC is an
administrative assessment of “the most” a
claimant can still do on a “regular and continuing
basis” notwithstanding the claimant's medically
determinable impairments and the extent to which those
impairments affect the claimant's ability to perform
work-related functions. SSR 96-8p; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1546(c); 404.943(c); 416.945.
four, the claimant must show that his or her limitations
prevent the claimant from performing his or her past work. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Mascio, 780 F.3d at
634. If the claimant can still perform his or her past work,
then the claimant is not disabled. Id. Otherwise,
the case progresses to the fifth step where the burden shifts
to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must
establish that, given the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, the claimant can perform alternative
work which exists in substantial No. in the national economy.
Id.; Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 567
(4th Cir. 2006). “The Commissioner typically offers
this evidence through the testimony of a vocational expert
responding to a hypothetical that incorporates the
claimant's limitations.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635. If the
Commissioner succeeds in shouldering her burden at step five,
the claimant is not disabled and the application for benefits
must be denied. Id. Otherwise, the claimant is
entitled to benefits. In this case, the ALJ rendered a
determination adverse to the Plaintiff at the fifth step.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her amended alleged onset
date, October 31, 2015. [T. at 20]. At step two, the ALJ
found that the Plaintiff has severe impairments including
history of mild cerebral trauma, headaches, seizures, spinal
disorder, folliculitis, left foot planter fasciitis, obesity,
neurocognitive disorder, affective disorder, and anxiety
disorder. [Id.]. At step three, the ALJ determined
that the Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals the Listings.
[T. at 21]]. The ALJ then determined that the Plaintiff,
notwithstanding her impairments, has the RFC:
[O]ver the course of an 8-hour workday, in 2-hour increments
with normal and acceptable work breaks, that the [Plaintiff]
has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except can never
climb ladders ropes and scaffolds; can occasionally crouch
and crawl, can frequently climb ramps and stairs, balance,
stoop, and kneel. She can constantly be exposed to a very
quiet to moderate noise environment, occasionally be exposed
to a loud and very loud noise environment, and can
occasionally be exposed to bright sunlight. She can
occasionally be exposed to hazards associated with
unprotected dangerous machinery or unprotected heights. She
can concentrate, persist and maintain pace sufficient to
understand, remember and carry out simple, routine tasks in a
low stress work environment (defined as being free of
fast-paced or team-dependent production requirements),
involving simple work-related decisions, occasional
independent judgment skills and occasional work place
changes. She can perform jobs ...