United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
cause comes before the Court on cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings. [DE 16, 18]. A hearing was held on these
matters before the undersigned on September 13, 2019, at
Elizabeth City, North Carolina. For the reasons discussed
below, the plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings
[DE 16] is GRANTED and defendant's motion [DE 18] is
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3) for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner denying her claim for supplemental security
income. After initial denials of her application for
benefits, plaintiff was given a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which occurred on June 29,
2017. The ALJ issued an unfavorable ruling, finding that
plaintiff was not disabled, which 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), and
1383(c)(3), 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).
case, the ALJ committed reversible error when he discounted
the opinion of Dr. Bhatti, stating that Dr. Bhatti's
opinion was inconsistent with his own clinical findings. Tr.
67. On their face, there is no such inconsistency between Dr.
Bhatti's opinion and his clinical notes, and so more
explanation is needed from the ALJ as to how that conclusion
was reached. Dr. Bhatti opines, among other things, on
plaintiffs hip and back pain, that she would need to recline
or lay down more often than is typical, and that she could
sit for four hours a day. Tr. 430. This is not inconsistent
with his clinical findings/notes that repeatedly list
musculoskeletal and hip pain and decreased range of hip
motion. Tr. 442, 444, 445, 447, 450, 532, 533. That Dr.
Bhatti would have obtained some of this information from
plaintiffs complaints about her own symptoms does not make it
irrelevant. See Mines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 565
(4th Cir. 2006). The ALJ must build an accurate and logical
bridge from the evidence to his conclusion. Monroe v.
Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 189 (4th Cir. 2016). Without more
explanation, the ALJ's finding that Dr. Bhatti's
clinical records were inconsistent with his opinion does not
satisfy the requirement of an accurate bridge. Accordingly,
the ALJ's decision must be remanded.
conducted a full review of the record and decision in this
matter, the Court concludes that remand is appropriate.
Accordingly, plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings
[DE 16] is GRANTED and defendant's motion [DE 18] is
DENIED. This matter is REMANDED to the Commissioner for