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Curry v. Berryhill

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

March 25, 2019

SYDNEY O. CURRY 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. 9, 13), and the parties' briefs and exhibits in support. The motions are ripe for adjudication.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Sydney O. Curry (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Defendant” or “Commissioner”) denial of his social security claim. Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“SSA”) and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the SSA on June 10, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of January 25, 2013. (Doc. Nos. 8 to 8-1: Administrative Record (“Tr.”) at 24). His applications were denied first on August 14, 2014, (Tr. 120), and upon reconsideration on February 24, 2015, (Tr. 128, 130). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing on March 9, 2015, (Tr. 132), and an administrative hearing was held by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on September 29, 2016. (Tr. 48).

         Following this hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the SSA. (Tr. 21-35). Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review. (Tr. 1). 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 Sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the SSA. (Tr. 23). 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 January 25, 2013, due to his mental impairments of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder with agoraphobia. (Tr. 337-385, 398-427, 457, 466-693).

         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. 35). 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 [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. 33-35).

         In reaching his decision, the ALJ first concluded at steps one through three that Plaintiff was not employed, that he suffered from severe mental impairments, and that his impairments did not meet or equal any of the impairments listed in the Administration's regulations. (Tr. 26-27). Therefore, the ALJ examined the evidence of Plaintiff's impairments and made a finding as to Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”):

[T]he claimant has the [RFC] to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant can perform simple, routine jobs and job tasks that would not require more than occasional contact with the general public.

(Tr. 29). Having established Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could not perform the work in which he had previously been employed. (Tr. 33). Therefore, the ALJ proceeded to the fifth and final step of the process: determining whether, given the limitations embodied in his RFC, Plaintiff could perform any work that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 33-34). To make that determination, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”). The VE testified that Plaintiff would be able to perform at least three representative occupations that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 34, 61- 62). The ALJ accepted the VE's testimony and ...


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