United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
Reidinger, United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff’s
Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 8] and the
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 10].
Plaintiff, Herbert James Wilson (“Plaintiff”),
filed applications for disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”)
and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act,
alleging an onset date of June 21, 2011. [Transcript
(“T.”) at 185-186]. The Plaintiff’s
applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration.
[T. at 111-114, 118-124]. Upon Plaintiff’s request, a
hearing was held on August 22, 2013 before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”). [T. at 63-91]. On September
11, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision denying the
Plaintiff benefits, finding that the Plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Act since the alleged
onset date of June 21, 2011. [T. at 47-62]. The Appeals
Council denied the Plaintiff’s request for review,
thereby making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. [T. at 9-13].
January 6, 2015, the Plaintiff initiated a civil action in
this Court seeking review of the ALJ’s 2013 decision.
[See Civil No. 3:15-cv-00005-RJC, Doc. 1]. On August
11, 2015, the Honorable Robert J. Conrad, Jr., United States
District Judge, entered an Order granting the
Defendant’s consent motion for remand pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further
administrative proceedings. [Id., Doc. 10]. On
October 13, 2015, the Appeals Council issued an order
remanding the case to the ALJ to give further consideration
to the Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity and
further evaluate the treating source opinions and explain the
weight given to such opinion evidence. [T. at 1326-1330].
December 7, 2016, a second hearing was held before the same
ALJ. [T. at 1296-1325]. On March 1, 2017, the ALJ issued a
written decision finding that the Plaintiff was not disabled
within the meaning of the Act since the alleged onset date
June 21, 2011 through October 26, 2015. [T. 1342-1372]. The
ALJ’s written decision, however, found that the
Plaintiff had been disabled within the meaning of the Act
since October 27, 2015. [Id.]. The Appeals Council
declined to assume jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s
request for review of the ALJ’s 2017 decision, thereby
making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. [T. at 1284-1289].
Plaintiff has exhausted all available administrative
remedies, and this case is now ripe for review pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court’s review of a final decision of the Commissioner
is limited to (1) whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner’s decision, Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); and (2) whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).
“When examining [a Social Security Administration]
disability determination, a reviewing court is required to
uphold the determination when an ALJ has applied correct
legal standards and the ALJ’s factual findings are
supported by substantial evidence.” Bird v.
Comm’r, 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012).
“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) (internal quotation marks omitted).
“It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence
but may be less than a preponderance.” Hancock v.
Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
reviewing for substantial evidence, [the Court should] not
undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the
ALJ.” Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653 (internal
quotation marks and alteration omitted). Rather,
“[w]here conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds
to differ, ” the Court defers to the ALJ’s
decision. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). To
enable judicial review for substantial evidence, “[t]he
record should include a discussion of which evidence the ALJ
found credible and why, and specific application of the
pertinent legal requirements to the record evidence.”
Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir.
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
“disability” entitling a claimant to benefits
under the Social Security Act, as relevant here, is
“[the] inability 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). The Social Security Administration Regulations
set out a detailed five-step process for reviewing
applications for disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920; Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th
Cir. 2015). “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 is
on the claimant to make the requisite showing at the first
four steps. Id.
one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaged in
substantial gainful activity. If so, the claimant’s
application is denied regardless of the medical condition,
age, education, or work experience of the claimant.
Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920). If not, the
case progresses to step two, where the claimant must show a
severe impairment. If the claimant does not show any physical
or mental deficiencies, or a combination thereof, which
significantly limit the claimant’s ability to perform
work activities, then no severe impairment is established and
the claimant is not disabled. Id.
three, the ALJ must determine whether one or more of the
claimant’s impairments meets or equals one of the
listed impairments (“Listings”) found at 20
C.F.R. 404, Appendix 1 to Subpart P. If so, the claimant is
automatically deemed disabled regardless of age, education or
work experience. Id. If not, before proceeding to
step four, the ALJ must assess the claimant’s residual
functional capacity (“RFC”). The RFC is an
administrative assessment of “the most” a
claimant can still do on a “regular and continuing
basis” notwithstanding the claimant’s medically
determinable impairments and ...