United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
D. WHITNEY, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Ann Marie Kline's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13) filed on September
25, 2018, Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security
Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Commissioner”) Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 17) filed on December 31,
2018, and Plaintiff's Response (Doc. No. 19) filed on
January 9, 2019. Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial
review of an unfavorable administrative decision on her
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative
record, and applicable authority, and for the reasons set
forth below, the COURT DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment and GRANTS Commissioner's Motion for
filed an application for disability benefits under Title II
on May 17, 2012. (Tr. 11). After her application was denied
initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 11, 168, 175, 176),
Plaintiff requested a hearing (Tr. 180). A hearing was held
on October 22, 2014. (Tr. 11, 98, 189, 223). On December 12,
2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 145). On
April 15, 2016, the Appeals Council remanded the case to the
ALJ. (Tr. 162-66). The ALJ held a new hearing on May 8, 2017.
(Tr. 11, 55, 250, 258). Plaintiff's request for review by
the Appeals Council was denied on December 8, 2017. (Tr. 1).
determined Plaintiff was not disabled since April 3, 2007.
(Tr. 11). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date and
that she had the severe impairments of degenerative joint
disease, status post right shoulder surgert, osteoarthritis,
rheumatoid arthritis, and tobacco abuse. (Tr. 14). The ALJ
determined that none of these impairments nor any combination
of the impairments met or medically equaled a per se disabled
medical listing under 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.
(Tr. 15). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”):
[T]o perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b)
except frequent balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl;
occasional climbing; frequent exposure to temperature
extremes and humidity; and occasional overhead reaching with
right upper extremity.
(Tr. 15-16). The vocational expert (“VE”)
testified that the Plaintiff was capable of performing past
relevant work as a reservations agent. (Tr. 24). In the
alternative, in response to a hypothetical that factored in
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the
VE testified that an individual with these limitations could
perform jobs in the national economy and listed jobs, which
work exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
(Tr. 24). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not
disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act. (Tr. 27).
has exhausted all administrative remedies and now appeals.
(Doc. No. 1). In Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment,
Plaintiff claims that the ALJ's decision should be
reversed and remanded because (1) the ALJ improperly rejected
new evidence and (2) the ALJ's appointment did not comply
with the Appointments Clause. (Doc. No. 14 at 3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
405(g) of Title 42 of the United States Code provides
judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's
denial of social security benefits. When examining a
disability determination, a reviewing court is required to
uphold the determination when an ALJ has applied correct
legal standards and the ALJ's factual findings are
supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Westmoreland Coal Co., Inc. v. Cochran, 718 F.3d
319, 322 (4th Cir. 2013); Bird v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012). A reviewing
court may not re-weigh conflicting evidence or make
credibility determinations because “it is not within
the province of a reviewing court to determine the weight of
the evidence, nor is it the court's function to
substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary if his
decision is supported by substantial evidence.”
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir.
2005) (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted).
“It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence
but may be less than a preponderance.” Pearson v.
Colvin, 810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Courts do not reweigh evidence or
make credibility determinations in evaluating whether a
decision is supported by substantial evidence; “[w]here
conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ,
” courts defer to the ALJ's decision.
Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653.
order to establish entitlement to benefits, a claimant must
provide evidence of a medically determinable impairment that
precludes returning to past relevant work and adjustment to
other work.” Flesher v. Berryhill, 697
Fed.Appx. 212 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1508, 404.1520(g)). In evaluating a disability claim, the
Commissioner uses a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. Pursuant to this five-step process, the
Commissioner asks, in sequence, whether the claimant: (1)
worked during the alleged period of disability; (2) had a
severe impairment; (3) had an impairment that met or equaled
the severity of a listed impairment; (4) could return to his
past relevant work; and (5) if not, could perform any other
work in the national economy. Id.; see also
Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 861 (4th Cir. 2017)
(citing Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th
Cir. 2015)); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4)). The claimant bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four, but the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. See Lewis, 858 F.3d at
861; Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 179-80 (4th
the claimant fails to demonstrate she has a disability that
meets or medically equals a listed impairment at step three,
the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to step four,
which is ‘the most [the claimant] can still do despite
[her physical and mental] limitations [that affect h[er]
ability to work].'” Lewis, 858 F.3d at
861-62 (quoting 20 C.F.R. §§ ...