United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
J. Conrad, Jr. United States District Judge
MATTER comes before the Court on the parties'
cross Motions for Summary Judgment, (Doc. Nos. 10, 12); and
the parties' associated briefs and exhibits. The motions
are ripe for adjudication.
Lee Price (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of
the Commissioner of Social Security's
(“Defendant” or “Commissioner”)
denial of her social security claim. Plaintiff filed an
application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act (“SSA”) on August 28,
2013, alleging a disability onset date of March 1, 2010.
(Doc. No. 8 to 8-1: Administrative Record (“Tr.”)
14). His application was denied first on March 13, 2014 and
upon reconsideration on April 14, 2015. (Tr. 14). Plaintiff
filed a timely request for a hearing on May 22, 2015, and an
administrative hearing was held by an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”) on March 27, 2017. (Tr. 14).
this hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled
under the SSA. (Tr. 14-23). Plaintiff requested a review of
the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 14). 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. 14). 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 March 1, 2010
due to chronic neck, back, and shoulder pain stemming from
left shoulder tears and degenerative disk disease. (Tr.
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. 14). In reaching her 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 her 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 her decision, the ALJ first concluded at steps one
through three that Plaintiff was not employed, that he
suffered from severe physical impairments,  and that his
impairments did not meet or equal any of the impairments
listed in the Administration's regulations. (Tr. 16-17).
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
the [RFC] to perform light work . . . except the claimant can
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can frequently
climb ramps and stairs.
He can frequently balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, and
reach overhead bilaterally. The claimant can never be exposed
to dangerous machinery or unprotected heights, but can
occasionally be exposed to dust, fumes, gases, odors, and
established Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff could not perform the work in which he had
previously been employed. (Tr. 21). 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. 21-22). 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:
“electronics worker, ” “inspector and hand
packager, ” and “shipping and receiving
weigher.” (Tr. 22). All of these jobs involve
“light exertion” according to the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles ...