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Jackson v. Berryhill

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

March 22, 2019

CYNTHIA JACKSON, 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 Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, (Doc. No. 11); Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 13); and the parties' briefs and exhibits in support. The motions are ripe for adjudication.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Cynthia Jackson (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Defendant” or “Commissioner”) denial of her social security claim. Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II and Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“SSA”) on March 8, 2016, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2010. (Doc. Nos. 10 to 10-1: Administrative Record (“Tr.”) 10). Her application was denied first on August 25, 2016, (Tr. 101-02), and upon reconsideration on September 15, 2016. (Tr. 137-38). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing on September 28, 2016, (Tr. 174-75), and an administrative hearing was held by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on March 1, 2017. (Tr. 34).

         Following this hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the SSA. (Tr. 7-28). 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 her administrative remedies, Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of Defendant's denial of her social security claim in this Court.

         B. Factual Background

         The question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was disabled under Sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the SSA. (Tr. 10). To establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden of proving that she was disabled within the meaning of the SSA.[1] Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). Plaintiff alleges that her disability began on January 1, 2010 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. 22-23). In reaching his 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 her 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 her 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 his decision, the ALJ first concluded at steps one through three that Plaintiff was not employed, that she suffered from severe physical and mental impairments, [3] and that her impairments did not meet or equal any of the impairments listed in the Administration's regulations. (Tr. 12-16). Therefore, the ALJ examined the evidence of Plaintiff's impairments and made a finding as to Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). The ALJ found that Plaintiff has “the [RFC] to perform medium work . . . except no more than occasional direct contact with customers; and simple routine tasks.” (Tr. 18-20). Having established Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could not perform the work in which she had previously been employed. (Tr. 21). Therefore, the ALJ proceeded to the fifth and final step of the process: determining whether, given the limitations embodied in her RFC, Plaintiff could perform any work that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 21-22). To make that determination, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”). The VE testified that Plaintiff could perform three representative occupations that exist in significant numbers in the national economy: “hand packager, ”[4] “laundry worker, ”[5] and “machine packager.”[6] (Tr. 22). The ALJ accepted the VE's testimony and concluded that Plaintiff's impairments did not prevent her from working; consequently, Plaintiff's applications for Title II and XVI benefits were denied. (Tr. 22-23).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court must decide whether substantial evidence supports the final decision of the Commissioner and whether the Commissioner fulfilled her lawful duty in her determination that Plaintiff was not disabled ...


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