United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
cause comes before the Court on cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings. [DE 17, 19]. A hearing was held on these
matters before the undersigned on September 13, 2019, at
Elizabeth City, North Carolina. For the reasons discussed
below, the plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings
[DE 17] is GRANTED and defendant's motion [DE 19] is
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review
of the final decision of the Commissioner denying her claim
for Disability Insurance Benefits. After initial denials of
her application for benefits, plaintiff was given a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which occurred on
August 28, 2017. The ALJ issued an unfavorable ruling,
finding that plaintiff was not disabled, which became the
final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council
denied plaintiffs request for review. Plaintiff then sought
review of the Commissioner's decision in this Court.
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), and
1383(c)(3), this Court's review of the Commissioner's
decision is limited to determining whether the decision, as a
whole, is supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner employed the correct legal standard.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650,
653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (internal quotation and
individual is considered disabled if he is unable "to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act
further provides that an individual "shall be determined
to be under a disability only if his physical or mental
impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not
only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering
his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other
kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
issued by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be followed in a disability case. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four,
but the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
If a decision regarding disability can be made at any step of
the process the inquiry ceases. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).
one, if the Social Security Administration determines that
the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. If not, then step two asks
whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination
of impairments. If the claimant has a severe impairment, it
is compared at step three to those in the Listing of
Impairments ("Listing") in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, App. 1. If the claimant's impairment meets or
medically equals a Listing, disability is conclusively
presumed. If not, at step four, the claimant's residual
functional capacity (RFC) is assessed to determine if the
claimant can perform his past relevant work. If the claimant
cannot perform past relevant work, then the burden shifts to
the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant,
based on his age, education, work experience, and RFC, can
perform other substantial gainful work. If the claimant
cannot perform other work, then he is found to be disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
case, plaintiff argues the ALJ erred at step four by finding
that plaintiff could return to her past work as a
teacher's aide. The ALJ found that plaintiffs RFC
included the ability to "lift, carry, push, and pull 20
pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently .. . ."
[Tr. 119]. This matches the language for light work and the
job of teacher's aid is categorized as such. As a result,
the ALJ found plaintiff was capable of her past relevant work
as a teacher's assistant.
plaintiff held the title of "teacher's assistant,
" her description of this role included distinct
differences from the description of "teacher's
aide" that is found in the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles ("DOT"). Specifically,
plaintiffs description of her role included physical tasks,
such as lifting/moving desks, books, copy paper, and most
critically, lifting children when they fell or were injured,
that are nowhere in the DOT's description. To be sure,
the inquiry is whether the plaintiff can perform her past
relevant work as it is generally performed in the economy;
and the Commissioner is entitled to rely on the DOT's
categories as "presumptively applicable to a
claimant's prior work." DeLoatche v.
Heckler, 715 F.2d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1983).
same job label "may be used in a variety of ways.
Id. "The claimant may overcome the presumption
that the Secretary's generalization applies by
demonstrating here duties were not those envisaged by . . .
the category." Id. Here, the DOT's
description of teacher's aide includes none of the
physically demanding duties of plaintiff s prior role.
Students and desks well exceed twenty pounds, as can stacks
of books and paper. Plaintiff has met her burden to rebut the
presumption that the DOT label simply applies without further
explanation. The ALJ gave short shrift to plaintiffs
description of her past occupation as a teacher's
assistant and his determination that she is capable of
performing her past relevant work cannot be upheld.
conducted a full review of the record and decision in this
matter, the Court concludes that remand is appropriate.
Accordingly, plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings
[DE 17] is GRANTED and defendant's motion [DE 19] is