United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
B. Jones, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings [DE-17, -23] pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Claimant Jermaine Jones
("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 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
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
protectively filed an application for a period of disability
and DIB on June 29, 2016, alleging disability beginning May
2, 2015. (R. 13, 236-39). His claim was denied initially and
upon reconsideration. (R. 13, 79-109). A hearing before the
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was held on
November 30, 2017, at which Claimant, represented by counsel,
and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared and
testified. (R. 13, 31-78). On May 30, 2018, the ALJ issued a
decision denying Claimant's request for benefits. (R.
10-30). On July 19, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
Claimant's request for review. (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, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996), superseded
by regulation on other grounds, 20 C.FR. §
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):
understanding, remembering, or applying information;
interacting with others; concentrating, persisting, or
maintaining pace; and adapting or managing 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 following errors by the ALJ: (1)
the ALJ's decision violates Bird by failing to
accord substantial weight to the VA disability rating; (2)
the ALJ erred by failing to account for the vocationally
limiting effects of Claimant's frequent bathroom usage in
the RFC; and (3) the ALJ failed to evaluate probative
evidence when assessing Claimant's social functioning.
Pl.'s Mem. [DE-18] at 9-14.
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 since May 2, 2015. (R. 15).
Next, the ALJ determined Claimant had the following severe
impairments: obesity; post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
with sleep disturbance; depressive disorder; migraine
headaches; history of colon cancer; status post (s/p) bowel
resection; plantar fasciitis; pes planus; s/p bilateral
bunionectomies with residual symptoms; inguinal hernia;
obstructive sleep apnea (OSA); degenerative disc disease
(DDD) of the cervical spine; disc narrowing of the lumbar
spine; and tinnitus bilaterally. Id. However, at
step three, the ALJ concluded these 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).
to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Claimant's
RFC, finding Claimant had the ability to perform medium work,
specifically that Claimant can lift/carry fifty pounds
occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently; sit, stand,
and walk for six hours; and push/pull as much as he can
lift/carry. (R. 17-23). The ALT also imposed the following
limitations: occasional climbing; frequent stooping,
kneeling, crouching, and crawling; frequent overhead reaching
bilaterally; occasional exposure to atmospheric conditions,
moving mechanical parts, and high, exposed places; exposure
up to and including moderate noise; occasional interaction
with supervisors and coworkers, but only incidental
interaction with the public, defined as one hour per day and
no more than ten minutes during any one sustained period;
limited to "unskilled work," as defined in Social
Security Ruling 83-10; and limited to occasional changes to
the manner and method of ...