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 20, 24]. A hearing was held on these
matters before the undersigned on September 13, 2019, at
Elizabeth City, North Carolina. For the reasons discussed
below, plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings [DE
20] is DENIED and defendant's motion [DE 24] is GRANTED.
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 and supplemental security
income. Plaintiff filed her applications in March 2014. After
initial denials, plaintiff was given a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in April 2017. The ALJ issued
an unfavorable ruling, finding plaintiff was not disabled.
The ALJ's decision 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, the ALJ found at step two that plaintiff had the severe
impairments of degenerative disc and facet joint disease of
the lumbar spine, osteoarthritis of the knees, and obesity.
At step three, the ALJ found plaintiff did not meet a
Listing. After determining her RFC, at step four, the ALJ
concluded plaintiff could perform her work as a general
office clerk, and in the alternative, the ALJ concluded at
step five that plaintiff could perform other jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy.
argues the ALJ failed to (1) properly consider her condition
under the requirements of Listing 1.04; and (2) failed to
properly evaluate the opinion of treating physician Neill
Court finds the ALJ committed no reversible error and that
the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.
The ALJ properly determined plaintiff did not meet all the
criteria for Listing 1.04A. The record evidence supports a
finding that plaintiff had full range of motion of the back,
and therefore, did not meet all the Listing requirements. Tr.
633, 666, 671. In addition, the ALJ sufficiently
explained her reasons for discounting the opinion of Dr.
Musselwhite. The ALJ detailed Dr. Musselwhite's
assessment and noted that it was inconsistent with numerous
treatment and examination notes showing no difficulty moving.
See Tr. 620, 624, 628, 633, 639, 643, 657, 662. In
short, the ALJ had a basis for giving less weight to Dr.
Musselwhite's opinion, and this basis was adequately
explained in her ruling.
conducted a full review of the record and decision in this
matter, the Court finds that the decision as a whole is
supported by substantial evidence and that the correct legal
standard was applied. Accordingly, plaintiffs motion for
judgment on the pleadings [DE 20] is DENIED and
defendant's motion ...