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Moehlenpah v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division

September 27, 2019

TAMMY MOEHLENPAH, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          W. Carleton Metcalf, United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment (Docs. 10, 12). The issues have been fully briefed, and the matter is now ripe for ruling. Following a review of the record, the parties’ briefs, and relevant legal authority, the Court denies Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and grants the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment.

         I. Procedural History

         On June 10, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits.[1] (Transcript of Administrative Record (“T.”) 22.) The same day, Plaintiff also filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. (T. 22.) In both applications, Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of June 30, 2013. (T. 22.)

         Plaintiff’s claims were denied initially on September 29, 2014, and then on reconsideration on March 2, 2015. (T. 22.) On March 31, 2015, Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (T. 22.)

         On January 20, 2017, a video hearing was conducted before ALJ Koren Mueller. (T. 22.) Plaintiff appeared in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the ALJ presided over the hearing from St. Louis, Missouri. (T. 22.) Vocational expert (“VE”) Theresa Wolford appeared at the hearing. (T. 22.) Plaintiff was informed of her right to counsel but chose to appear and testify without the assistance of an attorney or other representative. (T. 22.)

         On April 5, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (T. 22-31.) The same day, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ’s decision. See (T. 6). Plaintiff’s request was denied on June 7, 2018. (T. 6-8.)

         On September 24, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant action. See (Doc. 1).

         II. Standard for Determining Disability

         An individual is disabled, and therefore eligible for disability payments, if he or she 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); accord Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). The Commissioner undertakes a five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled. Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam). Under this sequential evaluation, the Commissioner must consider each of the following: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful employment; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant’s impairment is sufficiently severe to meet or exceed the severity of one or more of the listing of impairments contained in Appendix I of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P; (4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is able to perform any other work considering his or her age, education, and residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Mastro, 270 F.3d at 177; Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653 n.1.

         At steps one and two, the burden is on the claimant to make the requisite showing. Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 179 (4th Cir. 2016). If a claimant fails to satisfy this burden at either of these steps, the ALJ will determine that the claimant is not disabled, and the process comes to an end. Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015).

         The burden remains on the claimant at step three to demonstrate that the claimant’s impairments satisfy a listed impairment and, thereby, establish disability. Monroe, 826 F.3d at 179. If the claimant fails to do so, the ALJ must determine the claimant’s RFC. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635.

         The ALJ next proceeds to step four where the ALJ determines whether the claimant can perform his or her past relevant work. Id. The burden is on the claimant to demonstrate that he or she is unable to perform past work. Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. If the ALJ determines that a claimant is not capable of performing past work, then the ALJ proceeds to step five. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635.

         At step five, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant can perform other work. Id. The burden rests with the Commissioner to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the claimant can perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, considering the claimant’s RFC, age, education, and work experience. Id.; Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. Typically, the Commissioner satisfies this burden at step five with the testimony of a VE, who responds to a hypothetical question from the ALJ that incorporates the claimant’s limitations. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635; Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180. If the Commissioner satisfies her burden at step five, then the ALJ will find that the claimant is not disabled and deny the application for disability benefits. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635; Monroe, 826 F.3d at 180.

         III. The ALJ’s Final Decision

         In this case, The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(4) of the Social Security Act. (T. 22-31.) In support of this ...


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