United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
B. JAMES, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings [DE-24, -31] pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Claimant Carol Joann Bullock
("Claimant") filed this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial
review of the denial of her 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.
Having carefully reviewed the administrative record and the
motions and memoranda submitted by the parties,
Claimant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is
denied, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
is allowed, and the final decision of the Commissioner is
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
protectively filed an application for a period of disability
and DIB on June 12, 2014, alleging disability beginning
January 31, 2013. (R. 17, 158-61). Her claim was denied
initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 17, 54-83). A hearing
before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was
held on March 14, 2017, at which Claimant, represented by
counsel, and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared
and testified. (R. 17, 33-50). On August 8, 2017, the ALJ
issued a decision denying Claimant's request for
benefits. (R. 14-32). On August 8, 2018, the Appeals Council
denied Claimant's request for review. (R. 3-8). Claimant
then filed a complaint in this court seeking review of the
now-final administrative decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of judicial review of a final agency decision regarding
disability benefits under the Social Security Act
("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq., 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). "The findings of the Commissioner
... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence,
shall be conclusive . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence is "evidence which a reasoning mind
would accept as sufficient to support a particular
conclusion." Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640,
642 (4th Cir. 1966). While substantial evidence is not a
"large or considerable amount of evidence, "
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988), it is
"more than a mere scintilla . . . and somewhat less than
a preponderance." Laws, 368 F.2d at 642.
"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 v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996), superseded
by regulation on other grounds, 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(d)(2)). Rather, in conducting the "substantial
evidence" inquiry, the court's review is limited to
whether the ALJ analyzed the relevant evidence and
sufficiently explained his or her findings and rationale in
crediting the evidence. Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v.
Akers, 131 F.3d 438, 439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).
DISABILITY EVALUATION PROCESS
disability determination is based on a five-step sequential
evaluation process as set forth in 20 C.RR. § 404.1520
under which the ALJ is to evaluate a claim:
The claimant (1) must not be engaged in "substantial
gainful activity, " i.e., currently working; and (2)
must have a "severe" impairment that (3) meets or
exceeds [in severity] the "listings" of specified
impairments, or is otherwise incapacitating to the extent
that the claimant does not possess the residual functional
capacity to (4) perform ... past work or (5) any other work.
Albright v. Comm'r of the SSA, 174 F.3d 473, 475
n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). "If an applicant's claim fails
at any step of the process, the ALJ need not advance to the
subsequent steps." Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d
1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). The burden of
proof and production during the first four steps of the
inquiry rests on the claimant. Id. At the fifth
step, the burden shifts to the ALJ to show that other work
exists in the national economy which the claimant can
assessing the severity of mental impairments, the ALJ must do
so in accordance with the "special technique"
described in 20 C.RR. § 404.1520a(b)-(c). This
regulatory scheme identifies four broad functional areas in
which the ALJ rates the degree of functional limitation
resulting from a claimant's mental impairment(s):
understanding, remembering, or applying information;
interacting with others; concentrating, persisting, or
maintaining pace; and adapting or managing oneself.
Id. § 404.1520a(c)(3). The ALJ is required to
incorporate into his written decision pertinent findings and
conclusions based on the "special technique."
case, Claimant alleges the following errors: (1) the ALJ
failed to include a limitation for alternating between
sitting and standing in the RFC, in accordance with a medical
opinion from Dr. Robert Pyle, M.D.; and (2) the VE lacked
necessary credentials, and the ALJ therefore improperly
relied on her testimony. PL's Mem. [DE-25] at 6-9.
the above-described sequential evaluation process, the ALJ
found Claimant "not disabled" as defined in the
Act. At step one, the ALJ found Claimant had not engaged in
substantial gainful employment since January 31, 2013, the
alleged onset date. (R. 19). Next, the ALJ determined
Claimant had the following severe impairments: degenerative
disc disease, lumbar spine; arthritis in the left knee;
obesity; hernia; hypothyroidism; and depression. Id.
The ALJ also found Claimant had nonsevere impairments of
gastroesophageal reflux disease and hypertension. (R. 20).
However, at step three, the ALJ concluded these 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, Appendix 1. (R.
20-22). Applying the technique prescribed by the regulations,
the ALJ found that Claimant's ...