United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
JEFFERY D. GREEN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
J. Conrad, Jr. United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on the parties' cross
Motions for Summary Judgment, (Doc. Nos. 10, 14), and the
parties' briefs and exhibits in support. The motions are
ripe for adjudication.
D. Green (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of
Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Defendant” or
“Commissioner”) denial of his social security
claim. Plaintiff filed an application for Disability
Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“SSA”) on June 5, 2013, alleging a disability
onset date of June 1, 2012. (Doc. Nos. 9 to 9-1:
Administrative Record (“Tr.”) 175). His
application was denied first on June 21, 2013, (Tr. 120), and
upon reconsideration on April 4, 2014. (Tr. 125). Plaintiff
filed a timely request for a hearing on May 27, 2014, (Tr.
129), and an administrative hearing was held by an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on April 27,
2016. (Tr. 53).
this hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled
under the SSA. (Tr. 36-52). 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.
question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was disabled
under Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the SSA. (Tr. 36). To
establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden
of proving that he was disabled within the meaning of the
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
Plaintiff alleges that his disability began on June 1, 2012,
due to a combination of physical and mental
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. 47). 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.
reaching his 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. 38-41). 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 light work . . . except he can only
perform handling and fingering frequently bilaterally; he
must be allowed to alternate between sitting and standing at
30 minute intervals; he can only occasionally reach overhead
bilaterally; he can only occasionally climb ladders or
scaffolds; he can only occasionally stoop; he can frequently
climb stairs; he can frequently crouch, kneel, and crawl; he
should not have concentrated exposure to hazards such as
moving machinery or unprotected heights; and he is limited to
simple, routine, and repetitive tasks.
(Tr. 41). Having established Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff could not perform the work in which
he had previously been employed. (Tr. 45). 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. 46-47). 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:
“information clerk, ” “toll collector,
” and “order
caller.” (Tr. 46). According to the DOT, the
information-clerk job requires a Reasoning Level of 4, the
toll-collector job requires a Reasoning Level of 3, and the
order-caller job requires a Reasoning Level of 2. (Tr.
46-47). The ALJ accepted the VE's testimony and concluded
that Plaintiff's impairments did not prevent him from
working; consequently, Plaintiff's application for Title
II benefits was denied. (Tr. 47).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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 under the SSA. See
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1382(c).
SSA, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3), limits
this Court's review of a final decision of the
Commissioner to (1) whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's decision, Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971); and (2) whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); see
also Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992)
(per curiam). The district court does not review a final
decision of the Commissioner de novo. Smith v.
Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986); King
v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir. 1979);
Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir.
1972). As the SSA provides, “[t]he findings of the
[Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). In Smith v. Heckler, the Fourth Circuit
noted that “substantial evidence” has been
defined as being “more than a scintilla and [do]ing
more than creat[ing] a suspicion of the existence of a fact
to be established. It means such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986)
(quoting Perales, 402 U.S. at 401); see also
Seacrist v. Weinberger, 538 F.2d 1054, 1056-57 (4th Cir.
1976) (“We note that it is the responsibility of the
[Commissioner] and not the courts to reconcile
inconsistencies in the medical evidence . . . .”).
Fourth Circuit has long emphasized that it is not for a
reviewing court to weigh the evidence again, nor to
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner,
assuming the Commissioner's final decision is supported
by substantial evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456;
see also Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d at 345;
Blalock, 483 F.2d at 775. Indeed, this is true even
if the reviewing court disagrees with the outcome-so long as
there is “substantial evidence” in the record to
support the final decision below. Lester v.
Schweiker, 683 F.2d 838, 841 (4th Cir. 1982).
alleges that the ALJ made several errors: (1) the ALJ failed
to identify and question the VE about an apparent conflict
between the VE's testimony and the DOT; (2) the ALJ
failed to sufficiently account for Plaintiff's moderate
limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace
(“CPP”) in assessing Plaintiff's RFC; (3) the
ALJ failed to properly consider Plaintiff's alleged
symptom severity and limitations; and (4) the ALJ failed to
provide a sufficient narrative discussion of Plaintiff's
functional limitations and form a ...