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Fincher v. Berryhill

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

March 22, 2019

JONATHAN FINCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          ROBERT J. CONRAD, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER

         comes before the Court on the parties' cross Motions for Summary Judgment, (Doc. Nos. 11, 15), and the parties' briefs and exhibits in support. The motions are ripe for adjudication.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Jonathan Fincher (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Defendant” or “Commissioner”) denial of his social security claim. Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“SSA”) on April 23, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of April 23, 2013. (Doc. Nos. 10 to 10-1: Administrative Record (“Tr.”) 269, 273). His application was denied first on November 22, 2013 and upon reconsideration on February 10, 2014. (Tr. 117- 52). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing on April 1, 2014, and an administrative hearing was held by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on May 19, 2016. (Tr. 71-88).

         Following this hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the SSA. (Tr. 20-34). Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review. (Tr. 1-6). After having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of Defendant's denial of his social security claim in this Court.

         B. Factual Background

         The question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was disabled under Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the SSA. (Tr. 20). To establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden of proving that he was disabled within the meaning of the SSA.[1] Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). Plaintiff alleges that his disability began on April 23, 2013 due to a combination of physical and mental impairments.[2]

         After reviewing Plaintiff's record and conducting a hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not suffer from a disability as defined in the SSA. (Tr. 29-30). In reaching her conclusion, the ALJ used the five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration for determining if a person is disabled. The Fourth Circuit has described the five-steps as follows:

[The ALJ] asks whether the claimant: (1) worked during the purported period of disability; (2) has an impairment that is appropriately severe and meets the duration requirement; (3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment and meets the duration requirement; (4) can return to [his] past relevant work; and (5) if not, can perform any other work in the national economy.

Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 290-91 (4th Cir. 2013) (paraphrasing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4)). The claimant has the burden of production and proof in the first four steps. Pearson v. Colvin, 810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015). However, at the fifth step, the Commissioner must prove that the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy despite his limitations. See id.; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.960(c)(2) (explaining that the Commissioner has the burden to prove at the fifth step “that other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that [the claimant] can do”). In this case, the ALJ determined at the fifth step that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 24-25).

         In reaching her decision, the ALJ first concluded at steps one through three that Plaintiff was not employed, that he suffered from severe physical and mental impairments, and that his impairments did not meet or equal any of the impairments listed in the Administration's regulations. (Tr. 22-25). Therefore, the ALJ examined the evidence of Plaintiff's impairments and made a finding as to Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). In pertinent part, the ALJ found that Plaintiff

has the [RFC] to perform light work . . . except with occasional postural limitations with an avoidance of workplace hazards. He needs to alternate between sitting and standing up to two (2) times each hour. . . . He could follow short simple instructions and perform routine tasks, but not work requiring a production rate or a demand pace. The claimant was also able to sustain attention and concentration for two (2) hour periods at a time. . . . The claimant should also avoid work environments dealing with crisis situations, complex decision making, or constant changes in a rout setting. The claimant could ...

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