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Dameron v. Saul

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

November 20, 2019

CEDRIC E. DAMERON, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration,[1] Defendant.

          ORDER

          KENNETH D. BELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Cedric E. Dameron's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 12) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 15), as well as the parties' briefs and exhibits. Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision denying Dameron's application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”).

         Having 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 Dameron's Social Security benefits does not sufficiently permit the Court to determine if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED in part; Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED; and the Commissioner's decision is VACATED and REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Dameron applied for disability benefits on May 13, 2013, alleging disability beginning May 13, 2013. (Tr. 20, 185).[2] His application was denied at the initial and reconsideration levels. (Tr. 20, 101, 117). After conducting a hearing on March 9, 2017, Administrative Law Judge Theresa R. Jenkins (“ALJ”) denied his application in a decision dated July 3, 2017. (Tr. 20, 34). The Appeals Council denied his request for review. (Tr. 1-6). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Dameron has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court reverses and remands the Commissioner's decision.

         II. THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

         The ALJ used the required five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration to determine if Dameron was disabled under the law during the relevant period.[3] At step one, the ALJ found that Dameron had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 13, 2013. (Tr. 22, Finding 1). At step two, the ALJ found that Dameron had the following severe impairments: anxiety with panic, depression, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (Tr. 22, Finding 2). The ALJ considered Dameron's impairments under listings in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 at step three and found that they did not meet or medically equal any listing. (Tr. 22, Finding 3).

         At step four, the ALJ found that Dameron has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of work at all exertional levels but imposed the following non-exertional limitations:

[T]he claimant should avoid workplace hazards, such as ladders, ropes, scaffolds, unprotected heights, and machinery with dangerous parts; is able to follow short, simple instructions (not detailed), and perform routine tasks, but should have no work requiring a production rate or demand pace. The claimant is able to sustain attention and concentration for two hours at a time; frequently, but not continuously, interact with coworkers and supervisors, but should have no public contact or interactions. The claimant should avoid work environments dealing with crisis situations, complex decision making, or constant changes in a routine setting.

(Tr. 24). The ALJ further found that while Dameron had no past relevant work, considering his age, education, work experience, and RFC, he can perform other jobs that exist in significant number in the national economy. (Tr. 33, Finding 5 & Finding 9). The vocational expert (VE) testified that Dameron would be able to perform jobs such as routing clerk, marker, and router. (Tr. 33).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The 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, 390, 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 Cir. 1972).

         The 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 Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, ...


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