Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Lyde v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division

September 18, 2019

ERIC LYDE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER

          KIMBERLY A. SWANK, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on the parties’ cross motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the parties having consented to proceed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Eric Lyde (“Plaintiff”) filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the denial of his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). The time for filing responsive briefs has expired, and the pending motions are ripe for adjudication. On June 17, 2019, Plaintiff filed a notice of cases pending in the Fourth Circuit regarding the potential controlling authority of Lucia v. S.E.C., 138 S.Ct. 2044 (2018) (Notice of Subsequently Decided Controlling Authority [DE #41]) to which Defendant responded in opposition on June 20, 2019 (Def.’s Resp. Opp. Pl.’s Notice of Subsequently Decided Controlling Authority [DE #43]). On June 24, 2019, the court held oral argument in the matter. The court has carefully reviewed the administrative record and the motions and memoranda submitted by the parties. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE #25] is denied, Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE #36] is granted, and the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         Plaintiff applied for a period of disability, DIB, and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)[2] on April 18, 2013, with an alleged onset date of December 31, 2011. (R. 18, 282–85, 286–90.) The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and a request for hearing was filed. (R. 166–74, 174–78.) A hearing was held on June 18, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Carl B. Watson, who issued an unfavorable ruling on August 27, 2015. (R. 76–100, 136–56.) On December 10, 2015, the Appeals Council granted Plaintiff’s request for review and remanded the case to the ALJ to further evaluate the severity of Plaintiff’s impairments and to give further consideration to Plaintiff’s maximum RFC during the entire period at issue. (R. 163–64.) A second hearing was held before the ALJ on May 12, 2016, followed by an unfavorable ruling on August 26, 2016. (R. 18–42, 51– 75.) The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff’s request for review and, on June 5, 2018, issued a final agency decision denying benefits. (R. 1–9.) On July 27, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant civil action, seeking judicial review of the final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         The scope of judicial review of a final agency decision denying disability benefits is limited to determining whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner’s factual findings and whether the decision was reached through the application of the correct legal standards. See Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; [i]t consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), and Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)) (citations omitted) (alteration in original). “In reviewing for substantial evidence, [the court should not] undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner].” Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Craig, 76 F.3d at 589) (first and second alterations in original). Rather, in conducting the “substantial evidence” inquiry, the court determines whether the Commissioner has considered all relevant evidence and sufficiently explained the weight accorded to the evidence. Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v. Akers, 131 F.3d 438, 439–40 (4th Cir. 1997).

         II. Disability Determination

         In making a disability determination, the Commissioner utilizes a five-step evaluation process. The Commissioner asks, sequentially, whether the claimant: (1) is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1; (4) can perform the requirements of past work; and, if not, (5) based on the claimant’s age, work experience, and residual functional capacity can adjust to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); Albright v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). The burden of proof and production during the first four steps of the inquiry rests on the claimant. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th. Cir. 1995). At the fifth step, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that other work exists in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Id. “The Commissioner typically offers this evidence through the testimony of a vocational expert responding to a hypothetical that incorporates the claimant’s limitations. If the Commissioner meets [his] burden, the ALJ finds the claimant not disabled and denies the application for benefits.” Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634–35 (4th Cir. 2015).

         When assessing the severity of mental impairments, the Commissioner must do so in accordance with the “special technique” described in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a(b)–(c). This regulatory scheme identifies four broad functional areas in which the Commissioner rates the degree of functional limitation resulting from a claimant’s mental impairment(s) in the claimant’s abilities to understand, remember, or apply information; interact with others; concentrate, persist, or maintain pace; and adapt or manage oneself. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a(c)(3).[3] The Commissioner is required to incorporate into his written decision pertinent findings and conclusions based on the “special technique.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a(e)(3).

         III. Agency’s Findings

         Applying the five-step, sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found Plaintiff “not disabled” as defined in the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council adopted the ALJ’s findings in large part[4] and found Plaintiff “not disabled” under the Act. (R. 4– 7.) At step one, the ALJ and the Appeals Council found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since December 31, 2011, the alleged onset date. (R. 5, 20.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff’s last insured date was March 30, 2016, and the Appeals Council found that Plaintiff met the special earnings requirement on December 31, 2011, the date Plaintiff stated he became unable to work, through March 31, 2017. (Id.) Next, the ALJ and the Appeals Council determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “status post ligament repair to the right knee, early degenerative joint disease to both knees, obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease with stent placement, hypertension, sleep apnea, posttraumatic stress disorder, and alcohol abuse.” (R. 5–6, 21.) The ALJ found Plaintiff’s back pain, hernia, alleged decreased hearing in his right ear, gastroesophageal reflux disease, right finger degenerative joint disease, status post right cuneiform fracture, degenerative facet arthropathy, and right middle finger injury to be non-severe impairments. (R. 21–22.)

         At step three, the ALJ and the Appeals Council concluded that Plaintiff’s impairments were not severe enough, either individually or in combination, to meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20, C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. (R. 6, 22.) The ALJ analyzed Listings 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint), 3.10 (sleep-related breathing disorders), 4.04 (ischemic heart disease), 12.06 (anxiety related disorders), and 12.09 (substance addiction disorders). Although there is no specific listing for obesity or diabetes, the ALJ analyzed Plaintiff’s symptoms for both under listings for other body systems. (R. 23–24.) Prior to proceeding to step four, the ALJ and the Appeals Council assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity

to perform the full range of medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c) except that he is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks in an environment where changes are infrequent and are introduced gradually and where there is only casual interaction with the general public; and he can work in proximity to co-workers, but should work on tasks alone.

(R. 6, 25.) In making this assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff’s statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of his symptoms “not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record.” (R. 27.) At step four, the ALJ and Appeals Council concluded Plaintiff is unable to perform past relevant work as a security officer, custodian, assistant department manager, or as a mechanic (R. 6, 40.) At step five, the ALJ and the Appeals Council concluded, based on Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, namely: handpacker, warehouse worker, and hospital cleaner. (R. 6, 41.) The Appeals Council concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act from December 31, 2011, the alleged onset date, through August 26, 2016, the date of the ALJ’s decision. (R. 6, 42.)

         IV. Plaintiff’s Arguments

         A. Lucia Notice

         On June 17, 2019, Plaintiff filed a notice to inform the court that Lucia v. S.E.C., 138 S.Ct. 2044 (2018), may potentially control the court’s decision in his case. In Lucia, the Supreme Court held that an administrative proceeding conducted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) was invalid because the ALJ was an “Officer of the United States” ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.