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Morris v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

August 6, 2019

CLYDE B. MORRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          ROBERT J. CONRAD, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the parties' cross Motions for Summary Judgment, (Doc. Nos. 7, 9), and the parties' briefs and exhibits in support. The motions are ripe for adjudication.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Clyde B. Morris (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Defendant” or “Commissioner”) denial of his social security claim. Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance under Title II of the Social Security Act (“SSA”) on September 26, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of September 14, 2013. (Doc. Nos. 5 to 5-1: Administrative Record (“Tr.”) at 311). His application was denied first on November 6, 2013, (Tr. 475), and upon reconsideration on December 13, 2013. (Tr. 484). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing on February 10, 2014, (Tr. 488), and an administrative hearing was held by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on December 10, 2015. (Tr. 338-72).

         Following this hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the SSA. (Tr. 447-64). On February 15, 2017, the Appeals Council issued a decision vacating this decision and ordering remand for further proceedings. On remand, the ALJ held a second hearing on July 20, 2017 (Tr. 373-414) and found that Plaintiff was not disabled on October 3, 2017. (Tr. 311-30). Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision, but on January 25, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review. (Tr. 1). After having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of Defendant's denial of his social security claim in this Court.

         B. Factual Background

         The question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was disabled under Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the SSA. (Tr. 314). To establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden of proving that he is disabled within the meaning of the SSA.[1] Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). Plaintiff alleges that his disability began on September 14, 2013 due to a combination of physical and mental impairments.

         After 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. 330). In reaching his 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. (Tr. 330).

         In reaching his decision, the ALJ first concluded at steps one through three that Plaintiff was not employed, that he suffered from severe physical and mental impairments, [2] and that his impairments did not meet or equal any of the impairments listed in the Administration's regulations. (Tr. 316-19). Therefore, the ALJ examined the evidence of Plaintiff's impairments and made a finding as to Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). In pertinent part, the ALJ found that Plaintiff

has the [RFC] to perform medium work . . . except . . . [he] is able to stay on-task for two hours at a time throughout the workday, and so is limited to jobs performing the simple, routine, repetitive tasks of unskilled work, performed at a non-production work rate, in an environment without requirements for constant changes in routine, complex decision-making, or for dealing with crisis situations; the claimant is restricted from jobs requiring interaction with the general public, and is limited to jobs requiring only occasional interaction with co-workers and supervisors.

(Tr. 321-22). Having established Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could not perform the work in which he had previously been employed. (Tr. 329). 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. 329-30). To make that determination, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”). The VE testified that Plaintiff could perform three jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy: “laundry laborer, ”[3] “kitchen helper, ”[4] and “counter supply worker.”[5] (Tr. 330). According to the DOT, these jobs each have a Reasoning Level of 2. (Tr. 330). The ALJ accepted the VE's testimony and concluded that Plaintiff's impairments did not prevent him from working; consequently, Plaintiff's application for Title II benefits was denied. (Tr. 330).

         II. ...


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