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Radford v. Saul

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

August 7, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the parties' cross Motions for Summary Judgment, (Doc. Nos. 9, 10), and the parties' associated briefs and exhibits. The motions are ripe for adjudication.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Barbara Radford (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of Andrew Saul's (“Defendant” or “Commissioner”) denial of her social security claim. Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“SSA”) on May 29, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of August 4, 2013. (Doc. No. 8-1: Administrative Record (“Tr.”) 55). Her application was denied first on August 8, 2014, (id.), and upon reconsideration on September 15, 2015. (Id.). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing, and an administrative hearing was held by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on July 25, 2017. (Id.).

         Following this hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the SSA on November 8, 2017. (Tr. 68). Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 14, 2018. (Tr. 14-18). After having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of Defendant's denial of her 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. 55). To establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden of proving that she was disabled within the meaning of the SSA.[2] Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). Plaintiff alleges that her disability began on August 4, 2013, due to a combination of physical and mental impairments. (Tr. 57-58, 60).

         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. 68). 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. (Tr. 67).

         In reaching his decision, the ALJ first concluded at steps one through three that Plaintiff was not employed, that she suffered from severe physical and mental impairments, and that her impairments did not meet or equal any of the impairments listed in the Administration's regulations. (Tr. 58-60). Therefore, the ALJ examined the evidence of Plaintiff's impairments and made a finding as to Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). The ALJ found that Plaintiff

has the [RFC] to perform sedentary work . . . except she can lift 10 pounds occasionally, stand or walk for approximately 2 hours per 8-hour workday and sit for approximately 6 hours per 8-hour workday with normal breaks. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps or stairs. She can occasionally balance with hand-held assistive device (used to ambulate to and from the workstation). She can frequently stoop, and occasionally crouch, kneel, or crawl. She is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks performed in a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements, involving only simple, work-related decisions, and with few, if any, work place changes. She is capable of learning simple vocational tasks and completing them at an adequate pace with persistence in ...

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