United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings. [DE 17, 20]. The motions have
been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. A hearing on
this matter was held at Elizabeth City, North Carolina on
November 20, 2019. For the reasons discussed below,
plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings [DE 17] is
GRANTED and defendant's motion [DE 20] is DENIED.
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review
of the final decision of the Commissioner denying his claim
for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income. After initial denials, plaintiff received a hearing
in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on December 18,
2017, who issued an unfavorable ruling. This decision 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
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. § l382c(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. § l382c(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. §§
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 erred both by failing to directly address Listing
4.10 and by failing to find that plaintiff met Listing 4.10
with respect to his aneurysm. Despite treatment in September
2016, the aneurysm continued to grow over the following year.
Listing 4.10 is met when an individual suffers from an aortic
aneurysm demonstrated by medically appropriate imaging with
dissection not controlled by prescribed treatment.
See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x I §
4.10. A dissection is not controlled by prescribed treatment
when the individual suffers from chest pain due to
progression of the dissection, an increase in the size of the
aneurysm or compression of one or more branches of the aorta
supplying the organs. See Id. at§ 4.00H6.
did not directly address or analyze Listing 4.10. Tr. 16.
Instead, the ALJ just referenced Listing Section 4.00
generally, without any analysis. This was reversible error.
Radford v. Calvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir.
2013). The ALJ also committed reversible error by failing to
find that plaintiff met the Listing. Even with treatment,
plaintiff continued to suffer from the aneurysm, which
actually increased in size between September 2016 and
September 2017. The evidence shows that plaintiff meets
decision of whether to reverse and remand for benefits or
reverse and remand for a new hearing is one that "lies
within the sound discretion of the district court."
Edwards v. Bowen, 672 F.Supp. 230, 237 (E.D. N.C.
1987); see also Evans v. Heckler, 734 F.2d 1012,
1015 (4th Cir. 1984). When "`[o]n the state of the
record, [plaintiffs] entitlement to benefits is wholly
established," reversal for award of benefits rather than
remand is appropriate. Crider v. Harris, 624 F.2d
15, 17 (4th Cir. 1980). The Fourth Circuit has held that it
is appropriate for a federal court to "reverse without
remanding where the record does not contain substantial
evidence to support a decision denying coverage under the
correct legal standard and when reopening the record for more
evidence would serve no purpose." Breeden v.
Weinberger, 493 F.2d 1002, 1012 (4th Cir. 1974).
Court in its discretion finds that reversal and remand for an
award of benefits is appropriate in this instance as the
record before this Court properly ...