United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
cause comes before the Court on cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings. [DE 16, 21]. A hearing was held on these
matters before the undersigned on November 20, 2019, at
Elizabeth City, North Carolina. For the reasons discussed
below, the plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings
[DE 16] is GRANTED and defendant's motion [DE 21] is
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review
of the final decision of the Commissioner denying his
application for period of disability and disability insurance
benefits. After initial denials of his application for
benefits, plaintiff was given a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which occurred via
videoconference on June 26, 2017. The ALJ issued an
unfavorable ruling, finding that plaintiff was not disabled,
which became the final decision of the Commissioner when the
Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for review.
Plaintiff then sought review of the Commissioner's
decision in this Court.
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
limited to determining whether the decision, as a whole, is
supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner employed the correct legal standard.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650,
653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (internal quotation and
individual is considered 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). The Act
further provides that an individual "shall be determined
to be under a disability only if his physical or mental
impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not
only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering
his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other
kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
issued by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be followed in a disability case. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four,
but the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
If a decision regarding disability can be made at any step of
the process the inquiry ceases. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).
one, if the Social Security Administration determines that
the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. If not. then step two asks
whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination
of impairments. If the claimant has a severe impairment, it
is compared at step three to those in the Listing of
Impairments ("Listing") in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, App. 1. If the claimant's impairment meets or
medically equals a Listing, disability is conclusively
presumed. If not, at step four, the claimant's residual
functional capacity (RFC) is assessed to determine if the
claimant can perform his past relevant work. If the claimant
cannot perform past relevant work, then the burden shifts to
the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant,
based on his age, education, work experience, and RFC, can
perform other substantial gainful work. If the claimant
cannot perform other work, then he is found to be disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
the ALJ determined that plaintiff had an RFC of light work,
with other limitations. The ALJ determined at step four that
plaintiff could not return to past work as a prison security
guard, but determined at step five that plaintiff could
perform other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the
Court finds that the ALJ committed reversible error with
respect to the explanations given for plaintiffs light work
RFC, which rejected plaintiffs evidence about the alleged
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of
claimant's symptoms. Tr. 24-27. The ALJ explained this
finding by pointing to plaintiffs improvement following
treatment for lower back and knee issues, plaintiffs ability
to walk upwards of two miles each day after his coronary
artery bypass graft surgery, plaintiffs improvement with his
shortness of breadth issues, and his general ability to care
for himself personally. While the ALJ's discussion is
detailed, the reasons given by the ALJ are not inconsistent
with plaintiffs evidence and are not inconsistent with a
limitation to only sedentary work. Considering the other
evidence in the record, including Mr. Summerlin's own
testimony, the Court finds that remanding this case for a new
hearing is appropriate.
conducted a full review of the record and decision in this
matter, the Court concludes that remand is appropriate.
Accordingly, plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings
[DE 16] is GRANTED and defendant's motion [DE 21] is