United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
JONATHAN T. KEARSE, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
J. Conrad, Jr. A United States District Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 12), Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 15), and
Defendant's Motion for Extension of Time, (Doc. No. 14).
The motions are ripe for adjudication.
T. Kearse (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of
Andrew M. Saul's (“Defendant” or
“Commissioner”) denial of his social security
claim. Plaintiff filed an application for Disability
Insurance under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“SSA”) on February 21, 2015. (Doc. Nos. 10 to
10-1: Administrative Record (“Tr.”) at 132, 224.)
His application was denied on June 8, 2015. (Tr. 141.)
Plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing on July 30,
2015, (Tr. 148), and an administrative hearing was held by an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on May 23, 2017,
(Tr. 168). Following this hearing, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was not disabled under the SSA. (Tr. 7- 28.)
Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision, but
on September 6, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-6.) Having
exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff now seeks
judicial review of Defendant's denial of his social
security claim in this Court.
question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was disabled
under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the SSA. (Tr. 10.) To
establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden
of proving that he was disabled within the meaning of the
SSA.Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
146 n.5 (1987). Plaintiff alleges that his disability began
on February 16, 2014 due to physical and mental impairments.
reviewing Plaintiff's record and conducting a hearing,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not suffer from a disability
as defined in the SSA. (Tr. 28.) In reaching his conclusion,
the ALJ used the five-step sequential evaluation process
established by the Social Security Administration for
determining if a person is disabled. The Fourth Circuit has
described the five-steps as follows:
[The ALJ] asks whether the claimant: (1) worked during the
purported period of disability; (2) has an impairment that is
appropriately severe and meets the duration requirement; (3)
has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of a
listed impairment and meets the duration requirement; (4) can
return to her past relevant work; and (5) if not, can perform
any other work in the national economy.
Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 290-91 (4th Cir.
2013) (paraphrasing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4)). The claimant has the burden of production and
proof in the first four steps. Pearson v. Colvin,
810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015). However, at the fifth
step, the Commissioner must prove that the claimant is able
to perform other work in the national economy despite his
limitations. See id.; see also 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.960(c)(2) (explaining that the Commissioner has
the burden to prove at the fifth step “that other work
exists in significant numbers in the national economy that
[the claimant] can do”).
case, the ALJ determined at the fifth step that Plaintiff was
not disabled. (Tr. 27-28.) In reaching his decision, the ALJ
first concluded at steps one through three that Plaintiff was
not employed, that he suffered from severe physical
impairments,  and that his impairments did not meet or
equal any of the impairments listed in the
Administration's regulations. (Tr. 12-15.) Therefore, the
ALJ examined the evidence of Plaintiff's impairments and
made a finding as to Plaintiff's Residual Functional
Capacity (“RFC”). In pertinent part, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff
has the [RFC] to perform sedentary work . . . not requiring
working at unprotected heights, around dangerous machinery,
or around other similar workplace hazards; he is limited to
low-stress work, defined here as work requiring only routine,
repetitive tasks; only occasional judgment, decision-making,
and workplace changes; only occasional interaction with
public, coworkers, and supervisors.
(Tr. 16.) Having established Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff could not perform the work in which
he had previously been employed. (Tr. 27.) The ALJ thus
proceeded to the fifth and final step of the process:
determining whether, given the limitations embodied in
Plaintiff's RFC, Plaintiff could perform any work that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr.
27-28.) To make that determination, the ALJ relied on the
testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”). The VE
testified that Plaintiff could perform three jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy:
“election clerk, ” “order clerk,
” and “addresser.”(Tr. 28.)
According to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”), all of these jobs involve
“sedentary work.” The ALJ accepted the VE's
testimony and concluded that Plaintiff's impairments did
not prevent him from working; consequently, Plaintiff's
application for Title II benefits was denied. (Tr. 27-28.)