United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
B. Jones, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings [DE-21, -23] pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Claimant Carrie Etta Mosley
("Claimant") filed this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§405(g)and 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial
review of the denial of her applications for a period of
disability, Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"),
and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") payments.
The time for filing responsive briefing 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 affirmed.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
filed applications for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI
on July 20, 2015, alleging disability beginning June 10,
2015. (R. 18, 182-91). The claims were denied initially and
upon reconsideration. (R. 18, 54-99). A hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was held on March
23, 2017, at which Claimant, represented by counsel, appeared
and testified. (R. 33-53). On May 18, 2017, the ALJ issued a
decision denying Claimant's request for benefits. (R.
15-32). On August 28, 2017, the Appeals Council denied
Claimant's request for review. (R. 4-9). 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.F.R. §§
404.1520 and 416.920 under which the ALJ is to evaluate a
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 > 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 perform. Id.
assessing the severity of mental impairments, the ALJ must do
so in accordance with the "special technique"
described in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a(b)-(c) and
416.920a(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
impairments): understand, remember, or apply information;
interact with others; concentrate, persist, or maintain pace;
and adapt or manage oneself. Id §§
404.1520a(c)(3), 416.920a(c)(3). The ALJ is required to
incorporate into his written decision pertinent findings and
conclusions based on the "special technique."
Id. §§ 404.1520a(e)(3), 416.920a(e)(3).
case, Claimant alleges the ALJ erred by (1) failing to obtain
evidence from a Vocational Expert ("VE") at step
four, and (2) improperly evaluating the RFC. Pl.'s Mem.
[DE-22] at 13-25.
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 the alleged onset date.
(R. 20). Next, the ALJ determined Claimant had the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease and
degenerative joint disease of the bilateral knees.
Id. The ALJ determined Claimant's hypertension,
hyperlipidemia, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and anxiety
were nonsevere impairments, and her dizziness and vertigo
were not medically determinable impairments. (R. 20-21). At
step three, the ALJ concluded Claimant'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, Appendix 1. (R. 22-23). Applying
the technique prescribed by the regulations, the ALJ found