United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 9), and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 11). Plaintiff, through
counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable
administrative decision on her application for disability
benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2018). For the
reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment is GRANTED, Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment is DENIED, and the Commissioner's decision is
REMANDED to the administrative law judge (“ALJ”)
for further proceedings consistent with this decision.
procedural history of this case is not in dispute. Plaintiff
applied for Social Security Disability benefits in January
17, 2014, alleging that her disability began on June 1, 2013.
(Tr. 11). Plaintiff's claim was denied both initially and
upon reconsideration. Id. Plaintiff subsequently
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), which was held on May 18, 2017.
one of the disability analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
met insured status requirements and had not been engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2013. Id.
At 13. At steps two and three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
suffered from the following severe impairments: Dercum's
disease, fibromyalgia, and depression; however, these
impairments did not meet or equal the impairments found in
the listings. Id. at 14. In step four, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff had:
the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work .
. . except occasional climbing ramps and chairs; climbing
ladders, ropes or scaffolds; balancing; stooping; kneeling;
crouching; and crawling; with no concentrated exposure to
pulmonary irritants; able to perform simple, routine,
repetitive tasks; able to maintain concentration and
persistence for simple, routine, and repetitive tasks for two
hour segments; able to adapt to routine changes in a work
setting; and limited to work that requires no more than
occasional interaction with public, co-workers and
Id. at 15. Based on these limitations, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past work as a
placement interviewer and billing clerk. Id. at 19.
Nonetheless, the ALJ found at step five that there were a
significant number of jobs in the national economy that
Plaintiff could still perform despite her limitations.
Id. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not
disabled under the Social Security Act, and therefore was not
entitled to disability insurance benefits. Id. at
20. The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's
request for a review of the ALJ decision.
filed the present action seeking judicial review of the
administrative decision on May 24, 2018. Plaintiff contends
that the ALJ erred because 1) his determination at step five
of the disability analysis was not supported by substantial
evidence and 2) the ALJ failed to give specific reasons for
rejecting Plaintiff's testimony regarding her symptoms.
(See generally Doc. No. 10). As a result of these
errors, Plaintiff requests a remand to the ALJ for further
proceedings. Defendant contends that the Commissioner's
decision is supported by substantial evidence and asks this
Court to affirm the decision. (See generally Doc.
No. 12). The parties' motions are now ripe for
Court's review of a final decision by the Commissioner is
authorized pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and §
1383(c)(3). This Court's review is limited to 1) whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision
and 2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal
standards. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456
(4th Cir. 1990); see also Hancock v. Astrue, 667
F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012). A reviewing court may not
re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute its own judgment for that of
the Commissioner. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589
(4th Cir. 1996); see also Johnson v. Barnhart, 434
F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005). Even if the reviewing court
would have come to a different conclusion, it must uphold the
Commissioner's decision if the decision is supported by
substantial evidence. Lester v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d
838, 841 (4th Cir. 1982). The substantial evidence standard
is met if a reasonable mind can use the amount of evidence to
support a conclusion. Craig, 76 F.3d at 589. The
substantial evidence level rests somewhere above a mere
scintilla of evidence but may be lower than a preponderance
of the evidence. Id.
the Social Security Act, there is a five-step sequential
process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1). Step one is to determine
whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity; if claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity, then they are not disabled. Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). Step two looks to whether the claimant has
a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment
or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the
duration requirement. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii).
At step three, if the claimant's impairment or
combination of impairments meets or medically equals one of
the listings in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1,
then the claimant is disabled. Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iii). Step four is to determine whether the
claimant has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform the requirements of his past
relevant work. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv).
Lastly, step five considers whether the claimant is able to
perform other work in the national economy, considering
claimant's RFC, age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity. Id. §
careful consideration of the record, Parties' briefs, and
Plaintiff's assignments of error, the Court finds that
the Commissioner's decision was not supported by
Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632 (4th Cir. 2015), the
Fourth Circuit held that remand is appropriate when the ALJ
poses an incomplete hypothetical to the vocational expert
(“VE”) at step five of the disability
determination. Id. at 638. In Mascio, the
ALJ had found that the plaintiff had a moderate limitation in
her ability to maintain concentration, persistence and pace
at step three of the disability analysis, but later failed to
include this limitation in determining the plaintiff's
RFC and when posing hypothetical questions to the VE. See
id. The Fourth Circuit ...