United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
JAMAL A. YOUSEF, Plaintiff/Claimant,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION
B. Jones Jr. United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings [DE-47, -54] pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Claimant Jamal A. Yousef
("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 a period of
disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB"). The time for filing responsive briefing
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, it is recommended that Claimant's Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings be allowed, Defendant's Motion
for Judgment on the Pleadings be denied, and this matter be
remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
protectively filed an application for a period of disability
and DIB on December 18, 2014, alleging disability beginning
August 18, 2011. (R. 12, 208-11). His claim was denied
initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 12, 72-117). A
hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ")
was held on April 6, 2017, at which Claimant, represented by
counsel, and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared
and testified. (R. 35-67). On August 18, 2017, the ALJ issued
a decision denying Claimant's request for benefits. (R.
9-32). Claimant requested review by the Appeals Council and
submitted additional medical evidence. (R. 33-34, 204-07).
The Appeals Council found the evidence did not show a
reasonable probability that it would change the outcome of
the decision, did not consider and exhibit the evidence, and
denied Claimant's request for review on April 14, 2018.
(R. 1-5). 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, 76
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,
439-40 (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. § 404.1520
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. § 404.1520a(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 impairments):
understand, remember, or apply information; interact with
others; concentrate, persist, or maintain pace; and adapt or
manage oneself. Id. § 404.1520a(c)(3). The ALJ
is required to incorporate into his written decision
pertinent findings and conclusions based on the "special
technique." Id. § 404.1520a(e)(3).
case, Claimant alleges the ALJ erred by (1) failing to
consider whether Claimant's conversion disorder met or
equaled Listing 12.07, (2) failing to appropriately weigh the
medical opinions, and (3) failing to include all of
Claimant's non-exertional impairments in the RFC.
Pl's Mem. [DE-48] at 24-32.
the above-described sequential evaluation process, the ALJ
found Claimant "not disabled" as defined in the
Act. At step one, the ALJ found Claimant had not engaged in
substantial gainful employment from the alleged onset date,
August 18, 2011, through the date last insured, March 31,
2017. (R. 15). Next, the ALJ determined Claimant had the
severe impairments of adjustment disorder, degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine, right peroneal sensory
neuropathy, and status post bilateral tarsal tunnel surgery.
Id. The ALJ also found that Claimant did not have a
medically determinable impairment with respect to a
conversion disorder. Id. At step three, the ALJ
concluded Claimant's impairments were not severe enough,
either individually or in combination, to meet or medically
equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 15-17). Applying the technique
prescribed by the regulations, the ALJ found that
Claimant's mental impairments had resulted in mild
limitations in understanding, remembering, or applying
information and adapting or managing oneself, and moderate
limitations in concentrating, persisting, and maintaining
pace and interacting with others. (R. 16-17).
to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Claimant's
RFC, finding he had the ability to perform light
with the following limitations: occasional postural
activities except for no climbing of ladders and/or ropes,
and frequent handling and/or fingering with the right hand;
no more than occasional decision making or changes in the
work setting; no quotas or fast-paced production work; no
more than brief and incidental contact with the general
public; and no tandem work or other work in close
coordination with others in a team-type approach. (R. 17-25).
At step four, the ALJ concluded Claimant was unable to
perform any past relevant work. (R. 25). Nonetheless, at step
five, upon considering Claimant's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined Claimant is capable
of adjusting to the demands of other employment opportunities
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.
contends the ALJ erred by failing to consider whether his
conversion disorder meets or equals Listing 12.07. Pl's
Mem. [DE-48] at 24-29. The Commissioner contends the ALJ did
not have to consider Claimant's conversion disorder at
step three because it was not found to be a medically
determinable impairment at step two, and, in any event,
Claimant failed to demonstrate the impairment meets or equals
Listing 12.07. Def.'s Mem. [DE-55] at 6-10.
court begins at step two because the Commissioner contends
the ALJ's determination that Claimant's conversion
disorder was not a medically determinable impairment is
dispositive at step three, such that the ALJ was not required
to consider ...