United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings. [DE 15, 17]. The motions have
been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. A hearing on
this matter was held at Elizabeth City, North Carolina on
September 13, 2019. For the reasons discussed below,
plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings [DE 15] is
GRANTED and defendant's motion [DE 17] is DENIED.
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) for
review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying his
claim for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits. Plaintiff applied for benefits in April 2015. The
claim was denied, and he received a hearing in front of an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in September 2017, who issued
an unfavorable ruling. This decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied
plaintiffs request for review. Plaintiff then sought review
of the Commissioner's decision in this Court.
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), this
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
limited to determining whether the decision, as a whole, is
supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner employed the correct legal standard.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
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) (per curiam) (internal quotation and
individual is considered disabled if he 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
[twelve] months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The
Act further provides that an individual "shall be
determined to be under a disability only if his physical or
mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he
is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot,
considering his age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
issued by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be followed in a disability case. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four,
but the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
If a decision regarding disability can be made at any step of
the process the inquiry ceases. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).
one, if the Social Security Administration determines that
the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. If not, then step two asks
whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination
of impairments. If the claimant has a severe impairment, it
is compared at step three to those in the Listing of
Impairments ("Listing") in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, App. 1. If the claimant's impairment meets or
medically equals a Listing, disability is conclusively
presumed. If not, at step four, the claimant's residual
functional capacity (RFC) is assessed to determine if the
claimant can perform his past relevant work. If the claimant
cannot perform past relevant work, then the burden shifts to
the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant,
based on his age, education, work experience, and RFC, can
perform other substantial gainful work. If the claimant
cannot perform other work, then he is found to be disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). In this case,
the analysis ended at step five when the ALJ determined that
plaintiff could perform the jobs of document preparer,
tableworker, and assembler.
committed reversible error by failing to include in the RFC
all of plaintiffs limitations caused by his posttraumatic
headaches, and by failing to explain why accommodations for
these limitations were not incorporated. In 2010, plaintiff
suffered a traumatic brain injury from an on-the-job accident
resulting in a weeklong hospitalization and an additional six
days of rehabilitation. He has complained to medical
providers of headaches, dizziness, and memory loss since the
injury. He has constant migraines that range in severity, but
never fully subside. Moreover, to treat the headaches, he
often must lie down in a dark room for several hours before
he can function again.
forming the RFC, the ALJ did not include any accommodation
for plaintiffs needing to lie down for hours at a time nor
any accommodation for anticipated absences due to the
headaches. While the ALJ did include limitations for
plaintiff to avoid excessive noise and very bright light,
those are not the only conditions that cause the headaches.
Indeed, the record supports the alleged severity of plaintiff
s headaches. See, e.g., Tr. 441; 577; 593-95. By
failing to include in the RFC his limitation of the need to
frequently lie down, the ALJ committed reversible error.
decision of whether to reverse and remand for benefits or
reverse and remand for a new hearing is one that "lies
within the sound discretion of the district court."
Edwards v. Bowen, 672 F.Supp. 230, 237 (E.D. N.C.
1987); see also Evans v. Heckler, 734 F.2d 1012,
1015 (4th Cir. 1984). When "[o]n the state of the
record, [plaintiffs] entitlement to benefits is wholly
established," reversal for award of benefits rather than
remand is appropriate. Crider v. Harris, 624 F.2d
15, 17 (4th Cir. 1980). The Fourth Circuit has held that it
is appropriate for a federal court to "reverse without
remanding where the record does not contain substantial
evidence to support a decision denying coverage under the
correct legal standard and when reopening the record for more
evidence would serve no purpose." Breeden v.
Weinberger, 493 F.2d 1002, 1012 (4th Cir. 1974).
Court in its discretion finds that reversal and remand for an
award of benefits is appropriate in this instance as the
record before this Court properly supports a finding that
defendant has failed to satisfy his burden to show plaintiff
can perform work in the national economy. Accordingly, there
is nothing to be gained from remanding ...