United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Carleton Metcalf United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions
for summary judgment (Docs. 14, 20).
brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
obtain judicial review of the final decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”)
denying her claim for disability benefits. The issues have
been fully briefed, and the matter is now ripe for ruling.
Following a review of the record, the parties' briefs,
and relevant legal authority, the Court grants
Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and denies the
Commissioner's motion for summary judgment.
March 14, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for
supplemental security income. (Transcript of Administrative
Record (“T.”) 13, 15.)
claim was denied in June of 2013 and again, on
reconsideration, in August of 2013.
September of 2013, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
2, 2015, a hearing was conducted before ALJ Valorie
Stefanelli in Charlotte, North Carolina. (T. 70-108.)
Plaintiff was represented at the hearing by attorney Daniel
Bridgman. Vocational Expert (“VE”) Carol Crawford
was also present. (T. 70.)
17, 2015, a notice was sent to Plaintiff advising her that
she had received an unfavorable decision from the ALJ. (T.
138-40; 141-53.) Plaintiff subsequently sought review by the
September 8, 2016, the Appeals Council remanded the case to
the ALJ. (T. 158-62.) In its remand order, the Appeals
Council directed the ALJ to obtain supplemental evidence from
a VE in order to clarify the effect of the assessed
limitations on Plaintiff's occupational base. (T. 13.)
13, 2017, another hearing was held before ALJ Stefanelli. (T.
13.) Plaintiff appeared in person and was again represented
by attorney Bridgman. (T. 13, 37.) A VE, Melissa Brinson, was
present via telephone. (T. 37.)
November 16, 2017, Plaintiff was sent a notice of unfavorable
decision and informed how to file an appeal. (T. 10-12.)
February 27, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review of the ALJ's November 16, 2017
decision. (T. 1-3.)
April 24, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant action.
See (Doc. 2).
Standard for Determining Disability
individual is disabled for purposes of receiving disability
payments if he or she is unable 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); accord
Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). The
Commissioner undertakes a five-step inquiry to determine
whether a claimant is disabled. Johnson v. Barnhart,
434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam). Under this
sequential evaluation, the Commissioner must consider each of
the following: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in
substantial gainful employment; (2) whether the claimant has
a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's
impairment is sufficiently severe to meet or exceed the
severity of one or more of the listing of impairments
contained in Appendix I of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, subpart P; (4)
whether the claimant can perform his or her past relevant
work; and (5) whether the claimant is able to perform any
other work considering his or her age, education, and
residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920; Mastro, 270 F.3d at 177;
Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653 n.1.
first two steps of the sequential evaluation, the burden is
on the claimant to make the requisite showing. Monroe v.
Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 179 (4th Cir. 2016). If a claimant
fails to satisfy his or her burden at either of these first
two steps, the ALJ will determine that the claimant is not
disabled, and the process comes to an end. Mascio v.
Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015). The burden
remains on the claimant at step three to demonstrate that the
claimant's impairments satisfy a listed impairment and,
thereby, establish disability. Monroe, 826 F.3d at
claimant fails to satisfy his or her burden at step three,
however, then the ALJ must determine the claimant's RFC.
Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635. After determining the
claimant's RFC, the ALJ proceeds to step four in order to
determine whether the claimant can perform his or her past
relevant work. Id. The burden is on the claimant to
demonstrate that he or she is unable to perform past work.
Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. If the ALJ determines that
a claimant is not capable of performing past work, then the
ALJ proceeds to step five. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635.
five, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant can perform
other work. Id. The burden rests with the
Commissioner at step five to prove by a preponderance of the
evidence that the claimant can perform other jobs that exist
in significant numbers in the national economy, considering
the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.
Id.; Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. Typically,
the Commissioner satisfies her burden at step five with the
testimony of a VE, who responds to a hypothetical question
from the ALJ that incorporates the claimant's
limitations. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635;
Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. If the Commissioner
satisfies her burden at step five, then the ALJ will find
that the claimant is not disabled and deny the application
for disability benefits. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635;
Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180.
The ALJ's Final Decision
November 16, 2017 decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was
not disabled under section 1614(a)(3)(4) of the Social
Security Act. (T. 13-28.) In support of this conclusion, the
ALJ made the following specific findings:
(1) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since March 14, 2013, the application date (20
C.F.R. § 416.971 et seq.).
(2) The claimant has the following severe impairments:
peripheral artery disorder status post femoral surgery,
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, anxiety, and
obesity (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c)).
(3) The claimant does not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. ...