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Taylor v. Saul

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

December 18, 2019

D AWN M. TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER

          KENNETH D. BELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Dawn M. Taylor's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 17), as well as the parties' briefs and exhibits. Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits.

         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 Plaintiff's Social Security benefits requires a remand to gather additional evidence and further explain the evidence in support of the ALJ's conclusion that the claimant did not establish a period of disability or entitlement to disability insurance benefits. 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Taylor filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on July 10, 2014, alleging disability beginning August 14, 2013. Her claim was denied at the initial level on January 28, 2015 and upon reconsideration on April 6, 2015. (Tr. 59, 77). She had a hearing before ALJ Susan Poulos (the “ALJ”) who denied the application in a decision on June 19, 2017. (Tr. 80-97). Taylor then filed for a review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council, which denied review on May 18, 2018. (Tr. 104). The ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Taylor has now requested judicial review in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         For the reasons stated below, the Court remands the decision of the Commissioner for further proceedings.

         II. THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

         The ALJ used the required five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration to determine if Taylor had a “disability” under the law during the relevant period.[2] 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 at step one of the sequential evaluation that Plaintiff had not engaged in SGA during the period from August 14, 2013 through the date of her decision.[3] (Tr. 16). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had two severe, medically determinable impairments, specifically “fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.” (Tr. 85). With respect to fibromyalgia, the ALJ wrote:

The undersigned has reviewed the claimant's fibromyalgia in accordance with SSR 12-2p. After carefully reviewing the treatment notes, the undersigned finds that this is a severe medically determinable impairment. Dr. Lapp described clinical findings which meet the American College of Rheumatology criteria for fibromyalgia. The claimant has a history of widespread pain. Her examinations showed that she had at least 11 positive tender points on both sides of the body and above and below the waist.

Id.

         The ALJ then found at step three that Plaintiff did not have any impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the conditions in the Listing of Impairments at 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (Tr. 88). In so concluding, the ALJ specifically found that Taylor's impairments did not meet the requirements of Listing 1.02 (involving disorders of muscles and ligaments) or 14.06 (involving undifferentiated and mixed connective tissue disease).

         After step three, the ALJ determined Taylor's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and discussed why she came to that conclusion. (Tr. 89-96). The ALJ found that Taylor had the RFC to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work (lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b)), except that she can only occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can frequently climb ramps and stairs. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. She should have a sit/stand option with the ability to alternate between the two positions approximately twice per hour without losing productivity.

(Tr. 89).

         The ALJ then found at step four that Taylor is unable to perform her past relevant work as a rural mail carrier or mail carrier supervisor. (Tr. 96). Finally, at step five, the ALJ found that Plaintiff - given her age (49 at the alleged date of disability onset), high school education, work experience and RFC - could perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy, such as a “marker, ” “information clerk, ” and “toll collector.” (Tr. 97). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Taylor “has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from August 14, 2013, the alleged onset date, through [June 19, 2017, the date of the ALJ's decision].” (Tr. 97).

         III. ...


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