United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division
B.Yones, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings [DE-18, -20] pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Claimant Eddie Harris
("Claimant") filed this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial
review of the denial of his application for Supplemental
Security Income ("SSI") payments. The time for
filing responsive briefs has expired, and the pending motions
are ripe for adjudication. Having carefully reviewed the
administrative record and the motions and memoranda submitted
by the parties, Claimant's Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings is denied, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on
the Pleadings is allowed, and the final decision of the
Commissioner is affirmed.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
filed an application for SSI on March 27, 2015, alleging
disability beginning September 1, 2014. (R. 16, 170-77). His
claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 16,
64-85). A hearing before the Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") was held on May 25, 2017, at which
Claimant, represented by counsel; a witness; and a vocational
expert ("VE") appeared and testified. (R. 16,
32-59). OnNovember9, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying
Claimant's request for benefits. (R. 13-31).
then requested a review of the ALJ's decision by the
Appeals Council and submitted additional evidence as part of
his request. (R. 5). After reviewing and incorporating the
additional evidence into the record, the Appeals Council
denied Claimant's request for review on June 18, 2018.
(R. 1-6). Claimant then filed a complaint in this court
seeking review of the now-final administrative decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of judicial review of a final agency decision regarding
disability benefits under the Social Security Act
("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq., is
limited to determining whether substantial evidence supports
the Commissioner's factual findings and whether the
decision was reached through the application of the correct
legal standards. See Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514,
517 (4th Cir. 1987). "The findings of the Commissioner
... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence,
shall be conclusive . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence is "evidence which a reasoning mind
would accept as sufficient to support a particular
conclusion." Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640,
642 (4th Cir. 1966). While substantial evidence is not a
"large or considerable amount of evidence,"
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988), it is
"more than a mere scintilla . . . and somewhat less than
a preponderance." Laws, 368 F.2d at 642.
"In reviewing for substantial evidence, [the court
should not] undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make
credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for
that of the [Commissioner]." Mastro v. Apfel,
270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Craig v.
Chater, 16 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996), superseded
by regulation on other grounds, 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(d)(2)). Rather, in conducting the "substantial
evidence" inquiry, the court's review is limited to
whether the ALJ analyzed the relevant evidence and
sufficiently explained his or her findings and rationale in
crediting the evidence! Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v.
Akers, 131 F.3d 438, 439-10 (4th Cir. 1997).
DISABILITY EVALUATION PROCESS
disability determination is based on a five-step sequential
evaluation process as set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920
under which the ALJ is to evaluate a claim:
The claimant (1) must not be engaged in "substantial
gainful activity," i.e., currently working; and (2) must
have a "severe" impairment that (3) meets or
exceeds [in severity] the "listings" of specified
impairments, or is otherwise incapacitating to the extent
that the claimant does not possess the residual functional
capacity to (4) perform ... past work or (5) any other work.
Albright v. Comm 'r of the SSA, 174 F.3d 473,
475 n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). "If an applicant's claim
fails at any step of the process, the ALJ need not advance to
the subsequent steps." Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d
1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). The burden of
proof and production during the first four steps of the
inquiry rests on the claimant. Id. At the fifth
step, the burden shifts to the ALJ to show that other work
exists in the national economy which the claimant can
assessing the severity of mental impairments, the ALJ must do
so in accordance with the "special technique"
described in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a(b)-(c). This
regulatory scheme identifies four broad functional areas in
which the ALJ rates the degree of functional limitation
resulting from a claimant's mental impairment(s):
understand, remember, or apply information; interact with
others; concentrate, persist, or maintain pace; and adapt or
manage oneself. Id. § 416.920a(c)(3). The ALJ
is required to incorporate into his written decision
pertinent findings and conclusions based on the "special
technique." Id. § 416.920a(e)(3).
case, Claimant alleges the following errors: (1) the ALJ
failed to adequately account for Plaintiffs documented falls
and need for support while walking due to multiple sclerosis
("MS") in the residual functional capacity
("RFC"); and (2) at the time his decision was
issued, the ALJ's appointment did not comply with the
Appointments Clause. PL's Mem. [DE-19] at 10-21.