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Prestwood v. Saul

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

December 12, 2019

JOSEPH A. PRESTWOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          ORDER

          Kenneth D. Bell United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's “Motion for Summary Judgment” (Doc. No. 10) and Defendant's “Motion for Summary Judgment” (Doc. No. 14), as well as the parties' briefs and exhibits. Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on his application for Supplemental Social Security Income (“SSI”).

         Having reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative record, and applicable authority, and for the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED; Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED; and the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The Court adopts the procedural history as stated in the parties' briefs.

         Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed the present action on July 12, 2018.

         After reviewing Plaintiff's record and conducting a hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not suffer from a disability as defined in the SSA. (Tr. 773).[2] In reaching his conclusion, the ALJ used the five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration for determining if a person is disabled. The Fourth Circuit has described the five-steps as follows:

[The ALJ] asks whether the claimant: (1) worked during the purported period of disability; (2) has an impairment that is appropriately severe and meets the duration requirement; (3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment and meets the duration requirement; (4) can return to her past relevant work; and (5) if not, can perform any other work in the national economy.

Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 290-91 (4th Cir. 2013) (paraphrasing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The claimant has the burden of production and proof in the first four steps. Pearson v. Colvin, 810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015). However, at the fifth step, the Commissioner must prove that the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy despite her limitations. See id.; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.960(c)(2) (explaining that the Commissioner has the burden to prove at the fifth step “that other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that [the claimant] can do”).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 24, 2014 (Tr. 18, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff to have the following severe impairments: “degenerative disk disease of the lumbar and cervical spine; diabetes with peripheral neuropathy; obesity; depression; anxiety; obsessive-compulsive disorder; and left hand carpal tunnel syndrome” (Tr. 18, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in the Administration's regulations. (Tr. 18-21). Therefore, the ALJ examined the evidence of Plaintiff's impairments and made a finding as to the Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). In pertinent part, the ALJ found the Plaintiff:

has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except the claimant is able to frequently climb ramps and stairs; frequently climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; frequently reach with the left upper extremity; occasionally handle, finger and feel with the left hand; is unable to read written instructions and would require verbal instructions to perform tasks; and should have no exposure to unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, and hazardous work settings; and should never be exposed to dust, odors, fumes or pulmonary irritants. The claimant is able to perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks; must be in a work setting with a low level of pressure, defined as work not requiring multitasking, significant independent judgment, production rate pace, or team work to complete a task. The claimant is able to understand, remember and follow simple instructions; is able to make simple work-related decisions; and is able to respond appropriately to supervision. The claimant should have only occasional interaction with supervisors and coworkers and no more than superficial interaction with the public. The claimant is able to tolerate occasional changes in the work setting.

(Tr. 21, Finding 4). The ALJ detailed extensively the evidence considered in formulating the RFC (Tr. 21-39). The ALJ found the Plaintiff not disabled at Step Four of the sequential evaluation process based upon the established RFC and the vocational expert's (VE) testimony that Plaintiff would not be able to perform his past relevant work (PRW) as a material handler, a maintenance mechanic helper and as an arc welder. (Tr. 40, Finding 5). Alternatively, at Step Five of the evaluation process, the ALJ, pursuant to VE testimony, found Plaintiff, given the limitations embodied in his RFC, would be able to perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy such as small products assembler, a bagger and as a marker. (Tr. 40-41).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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. ...


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