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Ireland v. Saul

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

December 12, 2019

TRACI IRELAND, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MAX O. COGBURN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Traci Ireland's applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, requesting an order of reversal or a remand for rehearing. (Doc. No. 10). The Commissioner in turn filed his Motion for Summary Judgment, requesting affirmance. (Doc. No. 12). For the following reasons, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion, grants the Commissioner's motion, and affirms the Commissioner's finding of non-disability.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Administrative Exhaustion

         In September 2016, Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II, and supplemental security income under Title XVI, of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), alleging she had been disabled since May 31, 2016. (Tr. 125). Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, so she filed a written request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ held a hearing on September 6, 2018, for de novo consideration of Plaintiff's claims. (Id.). On November 8, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision, concluding Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Id.). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 14, 2019, rendering the ALJ's decision final and thus reviewable by this Court. (Tr. 1). Plaintiff has exhausted available administrative remedies, so this case is ripe for judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         B. Sequential Evaluation Process

         The Act provides that “an individual shall be considered to be 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); see id. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act:

1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be “disabled” regardless of medical findings;
2. An individual who does not have a “severe impairment” will not be found to be disabled;
3. If an individual is not working and is suffering from a severe impairment that meets the durational requirement and that “meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix 1” of Subpart P of Regulations No. 4, a finding of “disabled” will be made without consideration of vocational factors;
4. If, upon determining residual functional capacity (“RFC”), the Commissioner finds that an individual is capable of performing work he or she has done in the past, a finding of “not disabled” must be made;
5. If an individual's residual functional capacity precludes the performance of past work, other factors including age, education, and past work experience, must be considered to determine if other work can be performed.

See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant “bears the burden of production and proof during the first four steps of the inquiry.” Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). If the claimant carries its burden through the fourth step, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show other work exists in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See id.

         C. The ...


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