United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
Kenneth D. Bell United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's
“Motion for Summary Judgment” (Doc. No. 14) and
Defendant's “Motion for Summary Judgment”
(Doc. No. 17), as well as the parties' briefs and
exhibits. Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review
of an unfavorable administrative decision on his application
for Supplemental Social Security Income (“SSI”)
and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).
reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative
record, and applicable authority, and for the reasons set
forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is
DENIED; Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is
GRANTED; and the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
DIB and SSI applications filed on August 20, 2012 alleged
disability onset of June 22, 1983, and were denied initially
on December 11, 2012, and, upon reconsideration, on January
31, 2013. (Tr. 26). Plaintiff later amended his alleged
disability onset date to August 12, 2011, when vocational
rehabilitation did an evaluation. (Tr. 26, 63). Plaintiff
timely requested an administrative hearing, which was held on
October 28, 2014. (Tr. 41-64). An Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ) decision denying benefits was made on January 28, 2015.
appealed to Defendant's Appeals Council (AC), which on
July 27, 2016 denied Plaintiff's request for review,
thereby causing the ALJ's decision to become the
“final decision” of the Commissioner. (Tr. 3-6).
On November 5, 2018, the AC reviewed additional evidence,
including a Medicaid disability decision, and concluded no
change in its prior action was warranted. (Tr. 416).
Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of this decision pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed the present
action on September 28, 2016.
reviewing Plaintiff's record and conducting a hearing,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not suffer from a disability
as defined in the Social Security Act (SSA). (Tr.35). In
reaching her conclusion, the ALJ used the five-step
sequential evaluation process established by the Social
Security Administration for determining if a person is
disabled. The five steps are:
(1) whether claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity-if yes, not disabled;
(2) whether claimant has a severe medically determinable
physical or mental impairment, or combination of impairments
that meet the duration requirement in § 404.1509-if no,
(3) whether claimant has an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals one of the
listings in appendix 1 and meets the duration requirement-if
(4) whether claimant has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform his or her past relevant
work-if yes, not disabled; and
(5) whether considering claimant's RFC, age, education,
and work experience he or she can make an adjustment to other
work-if yes, not disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). 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.
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 fourth step that Plaintiff was not
disabled. (Tr. 34, Finding 6 and Tr. 61).
found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since August 12, 2011. (Tr. 28). The ALJ found
Plaintiff to have the following severe impairments:
“borderline intellectual functioning, polysubstance
abuse, and a personality disorder. (Tr. 28, Finding 3). The
ALJ also found, with explanation, that Plaintiff has the
non-severe impairment of hypoxic/static encephalopathy. (Tr.
29). The ALJ determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled
one of the listed impairments in the Administration's
regulations. (Tr. 29-31). The ALJ examined the evidence of
Plaintiff's impairments and made a finding as to the
Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). In
pertinent part, the ALJ found the Plaintiff:
has the [RFC] to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels, but… is limited to doing routine
tasks and to following short, simple, non-detailed
instructions, with no work requiring a production rate or
demand pace. The claimant should have frequent but not
continuous contact or interactions with co-workers,
supervisors, and the public. The claimant should avoid work
environments dealing with crisis situations, complex decision