United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
T. Numbers, II United States Magistrate Judge.
Ramiro Ruiz instituted this action in May 2018 to challenge
the denial of his application for social security income.
Ruiz claims that Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Vanessa Lucas erred in (1) failing to account for his mental
impairments when determining his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), and (2) applying the Medical-Vocational
Guidelines (“Grids”). Both Ruiz and Defendant
Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, have filed
motions seeking a judgment on the pleadings in their favor.
D.E. 26, 30.
reviewing the parties' arguments, the court has
determined that ALJ Lucas reached the appropriate
determination. ALJ Lucas correctly considered Ruiz's
mental impairments when determining the RFC. And she applied
the appropriate Grid Rule at step five. The undersigned
magistrate judge denies Ruiz's motion, grants the
Commissioner's motion, and affirms the Commissioner's
September 2014, Ruiz filed applied for disability insurance
benefits, alleging a disability that began in December 2012.
After his claim was denied at the initial level and upon
reconsideration, Ruiz appeared before ALJ Lucas for a hearing
to determine whether he was entitled to benefits. ALJ Lucas
determined Ruiz had no right to benefits because he was not
disabled. Tr. at 12-22.
Lucas found that Ruiz had several severe impairments
including: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine,
chronic low back pain, left shoulder bursitis/degenerative
joint disease, with a history of rotator cuff repair surgery,
Achilles tendonitis and pes planus of the bilateral feet, and
obesity. Tr. at 14. ALJ Lucas also found that Ruiz's
impairments, either alone or in combination, did not meet or
equal a Listing impairment. Tr. at 17.
Lucas then determined that Ruiz had the RFC to perform a full
range of sedentary work. Tr. at 18. ALJ Lucas concluded that
Ruiz could perform his past relevant work as a general
operations agent and security officer. Tr. at 22. Thus, ALJ
Lucas found that Ruiz was not disabled. Id.
unsuccessfully seeking review by the Appeals Council, Ruiz
commenced this action in May 2018. D.E. 1.
Standard for Review of the Acting Commissioner's Final
social security claimant appeals a final decision of the
Commissioner, the district court's review is limited to
determining whether, based on the entire administrative
record, there is substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's findings. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Substantial evidence is defined as “evidence which a
reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a
particular conclusion.” Shively v. Heckler,
739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984) (quoting Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). The
court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is
supported by substantial evidence. Smith v. Chater,
99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996).
Standard for Evaluating Disability
making a disability determination, the ALJ engages in a
five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520;
see Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650 (4th Cir.
2005). The ALJ must consider the factors in order. At step
one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. At step two, the claim is
denied if the claimant does not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments significantly limiting him or her
from performing basic work activities. At step three, the
claimant's impairment is compared to those in the Listing
of Impairments. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
App. 1. If the impairment is listed in the Listing of
Impairments or if it is equivalent to a listed impairment,
disability is conclusively presumed. But if the
claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed
impairment, the ALJ assesses the claimant's RFC to
determine, at step four, whether he can perform his past work
despite his impairments. If the claimant cannot perform past
relevant work, the analysis moves on to step five:
establishing whether the claimant, based on his age, work
experience, and RFC can perform other substantial gainful
work. The burden of proof is on the claimant for the first
four steps of this inquiry, but shifts to the Commissioner at
the fifth step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203
(4th Cir. 1995).
served about 20 years in the Army. Tr. at 481. He has a
history of mental health conditions, including diagnoses of
post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”),
headaches, dementia, and depression. Tr. at 14.
2005, the Veterans Administration (“VA”)
determined that Ruiz had a 30% disability rating for PTSD and
depression. Tr. at 192. The VA later increased this
rating to 50% based on suicidal ideations, memory impairment,
occupational and social impairments, anxiety, depression, and
sleep disturbances. Tr. at 193.
2011, John Bolger, Ph.D., conducted a consultative
psychological examination. Tr. at 15. Based on testing
results, Dr. Bolger found little evidence of a neurocognitive
status examinations between 2012 and 2014 reflect that Ruiz
had a withdrawn mood, constricted affect, and reported
auditory hallucinations. Tr. at 510, 518, 548, 572, 592, 616.
In July 2014, Ruiz presented to the Emergency Department of
Womack Army ...