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Coggin v. Saul

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

December 20, 2019

JON P. COGGIN, 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 Jon P. Coggin's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) 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 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, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED; Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED; and the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Coggin filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on September 4, 2014, alleging disability beginning February 28, 2014. His claim was denied at the initial level on December 17, 2014 and upon reconsideration on April 29, 2015. (Tr. 205, 212). On May 8, 2017, he had a hearing before ALJ Mary Ryerse (the “ALJ”) who denied the application in a decision on August 29, 2017. (Tr. 12-27). Coggin then filed for a review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council, which denied review on August 13, 2018. (Tr. 1). The ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Coggin has now requested judicial review in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         For the reasons stated below, the Court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

         The ALJ used the required five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration to determine if Coggin 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 his alleged onset date of February 28, 2014 through the date of his decision.[3] (Tr. 17). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had severe, medically determinable impairments, specifically, “degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine with right sided sciatica; left shoulder impingement/degenerative joint disease status post arthroscopy; status-post right shoulder arthroscopy; neuritis in feet, status post open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) of right ankle fracture with right ankle instability; obesity; REM sleep behavior disorder; obstructive sleep apnea; and bipolar disorder ….” (Tr.17).

         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. 18-20). After step three, the ALJ determined Coggin's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and discussed at length why he came to that conclusion. (Tr. 20-25). The ALJ found that Coggin had the RFC to perform sedentary work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except the claimant requires a cane for ambulation. He can frequently push and pull with bilateral upper extremities and bilateral lower extremities, and can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and is limited to frequently reaching in front, laterally, and overhead, bilaterally. The claimant is also limited to performing simple, routine tasks and is limited to maintaining concentration, persistence and pace for two-hour periods during the ...

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