United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
DEBRA L. KENNEDY Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
J. CONRAD, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER comes before the Court on the parties'
cross Motions for Summary Judgment, (Doc. Nos. 12, 14), and
the parties' associated briefs and exhibits. The motions
are ripe for adjudication.
Lynn Kennedy (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review
of Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Defendant” or
“Commissioner”) denial of her social security
claim. Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance
benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“SSA”) and supplemental security income under
Title XVI of the SSA on March 31, 2014, alleging a disability
onset date of February 26, 2014. (Doc. Nos. 10 to 10-1:
Administrative Record (“Tr.”) at 14). Her
applications were denied first on August 25, 2014, (Tr. 121),
and upon reconsideration on February 11, 2015, (Tr. 128,
136). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing on
August 31, 2015, (Tr. 148), and an administrative hearing was
held by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on
February 27, 2017. (Tr. 37).
this hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled
under the SSA. (Tr. 11-24). Plaintiff requested a review of
the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for a review. (Tr. 1). After having
exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff now seeks
judicial review of Defendant's denial of her social
security claim in this Court.
question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was disabled
under Sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the SSA.
(Tr. 14). To establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has
the burden of proving that she was disabled within the
meaning of the SSA. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
146 n.5 (1987). Plaintiff alleges that her disability began
on February 26, 2014, due to her impairments of seizures,
bipolar disorder, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), schizophrenia, and insomnia. (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. 24). 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 her
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 his decision, the ALJ first concluded at steps one
through three that Plaintiff was not employed, that she
suffered from severe mental impairments, and that her
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”):
[T]he claimant has the [RFC] to perform medium work . . .
except she must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards; and
she is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a
stable environment at a nonproduction pace with occasional
interpersonal interaction. She is expected to be off task
nine percent (9%) of an eight-hour workday.
(Tr. 19). Having established Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff could not perform the work in which
she had previously been employed. (Tr. 22). Therefore, the
ALJ proceeded to the fifth and final step of the process:
determining whether, given the limitations embodied in her
RFC, Plaintiff could perform any work that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 22-23). To
make that determination, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a
Vocational Expert (“VE”). The VE testified that
Plaintiff would be able to perform at least three
representative occupations that exist in significant numbers
in the national economy. (Tr. 23, 57- 58). The ALJ accepted
the VE's testimony and ...