United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
KENNETH D. BELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Kristina
Philbrick-Morrison's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.
No. 12) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.
No. 16). Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review of
an unfavorable administrative decision regarding her
application for Supplemental Security Income
reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative
record, and applicable authority, and for the reasons set
forth below, the Court finds that Defendant's decision to
deny Plaintiff's Social Security benefits is not
supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court
will GRANT Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment, DENY Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgement, REVERSE the
Commissioner's decision, and REMAND this
matter for further proceedings consistent with this Order.
Philbrick-Morrison protectively filed her application for SSI
on November 19, 2014. (Tr. at 12). She alleged that she had
been suffering from several physical and mental
impairments. (Tr. at 188). Her application was
initially denied on April 10, 2015 and again upon
reconsideration on August 26, 2015. (Doc. No. 17 at 2; Tr. at
1-5). A hearing was held on April 19, 2019 before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. at 12). In
the ALJ's decision, he ultimately concluded that Ms.
Philbrick-Morrison was not disabled under 1614(a)(3)(A) of
the Social Security Act and denied her application in a
decision dated June 6, 2017. (Tr. 12-27). The Appeals Council
denied her request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr.
at 1-5). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner, and Ms. Philbrick-Morrison has
requested judicial review.
reasons stated below, the Court reverses the decision of the
Commissioner and remands this matter for further proceedings
consistent with this Order.
one, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Philbrick-Morrison had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date and filing date of November 19,
2014. (Tr. at 14). At step two, the ALJ
concluded that she has the severe impairments of dissociative
disorder, panic disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder, depression, chronic pain in her neck, back, and
knees, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and obesity.
(Tr. at 14). At step three, the ALJ concluded that her severe
impairments did not meet or medically equal the listed
impairments of 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, app. 1 at
12.04, 12.06, or 12.08. (Tr. at 15). In assessing whether Ms.
Philbrick's impairments met or medically equaled the
listed impairments, the ALJ found that she had moderate
limitation with regard to concentrating, persisting, or
maintaining pace. (Tr. at 16). As a prerequisite to step
four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Philbrick-Morrison had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
except occasional climbing ramps and stairs, balancing,
stooping, kneeling, and crouching; no climbing of ropes,
ladders or scaffolds; no crawling; and avoiding concentrated
exposure to hazards and vibrations. She can perform simple,
routine, repetitive work that requires only occasional
interaction with the general public.
17). In the RFC assessment, the ALJ considered the opinions
of several clinicians and doctors. (Tr. at 17-25). The ALJ
also considered Ms. Philbrick-Morrison's own testimony
regarding her symptoms. (Tr. at 17). The ALJ concluded at
step four that she is unable to perform any past relevant
work. (Tr. at 25). At step five, the ALJ concluded that there
are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy that she can perform, rendering her ineligible for
SSI. (Tr. at 25). The vocational expert (“VE”)
testified that she would be able to perform jobs such as pace
worker, stuffer, and hand packer. (Tr. at 50). The Appeals
Council denied review and Ms. Philbrick-Morrison appealed to
this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Tr. at 1-5).
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and §
1383(c)(3), limits this Court's review of a final
decision of the Commissioner 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); see also Hunter v. Sullivan, 993
F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992) (per curiam). The District Court
does not review a final decision of the Commissioner de novo.
Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir.
1986); King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir.
1979); Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th
Social Security Act provides that “[t]he findings of
the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). In Smith v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176,
1179 (4th Cir. 1986) (quoting Perales, 402 U.S. at
401), the Fourth Circuit defined “substantial
Substantial evidence has been defined as being “more
than a scintilla and do[ing] more than creat[ing] a suspicion
of the existence of a fact to be established. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind ...