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Henderson v. Saul

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

January 16, 2020

DOYLE QUENTIN HENDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Kenneth D. Bell United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Doyle Quentin Henderson's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 9) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 10). Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision regarding his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).

         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 is not supported by substantial evidence. 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

         Mr. Henderson protectively filed his application for DIB on March 4, 2013.[2] (Tr. at 100; 463-66; Doc. No. 9-1, at 1).[3] His application alleged disability since October 21, 2011, (Tr. at 463), and his date last insured is December 31, 2013. (Tr. at 100). His application was initially denied on September 23, 2013 and again upon reconsideration on January 23, 2014. (Tr. at 213-29; 230-48). Mr. Henderson requested a hearing before an ALJ on March 10, 2014, which was denied on November 4, 2014. (Tr. at 344-45; 100). Mr. Henderson appealed, and the Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ. (Tr. at 100).

         A hearing was held on June 20, 2017 before the ALJ. (Tr. at 128-53). In the ALJ's decision, he ultimately concluded that Mr. Henderson was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act and denied his application in a decision dated March 12, 2018. (Tr. at 100-17). The Appeals Council denied his request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 1-4). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Mr. Henderson has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court reverses the decision of the Commissioner and remands this matter for further proceedings consistent with this Order.

         II. THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

         At step one, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Henderson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date and filing date.[4] (Tr. at 103). At step two, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Henderson had the severe impairments of spine disorder, obesity, and depression and anxiety. (Tr. at 103-04). At step three, the ALJ concluded that his severe impairments did not meet or medically equal the listed impairments within 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, app. 1. (Tr. at 104-06). At this step, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Henderson has moderate limitations in concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace. (Tr. at 105). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Henderson had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work,

except that the claimant can only occasionally push/pull with his lower extremities, including but not limited to foot controls; the claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; the claimant can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; the claimant cannot have concentrated exposure to extreme heat or cold, vibrations, and/or hazards, such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery; the claimant is limited to simple, routine repetitive tasks; the claimant's time off task can be accommodated by normal breaks; and the claimant can only have occasional interaction with the public.

(Tr. at 106). When making his RFC assessment, the ALJ considered the opinions of several sources, including a licensed clinical social worker, a consultative psychologist, and state agency medical and psychological consultants, among other sources (Tr. at 111-15), as well as Mr. Henderson's subjective statements about his symptoms. (Tr. at 106-11). The ALJ concluded at step four that Mr. Henderson is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. at 115). At step five, however, the ALJ concluded that there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform despite his limitations, rendering him ineligible for DIB. (Tr. at 115-16). The vocational expert (“VE”) testified that given the limitations ultimately included in the RFC determination, Mr. Henderson would still be able to perform jobs such as checker I, inspector/hand packager of plastic parts, and assembler of small products I/bench assembler. (Tr. at 116; 144-47). The Appeals Council denied review and Mr. Henderson has appealed to this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Tr. at 1-4; Doc. No. 9).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         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, 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. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986); King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir. 1979); Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).

         The Social Security Act provides that “[t]he findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). In Smith v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986) (quoting Perales, 402 U.S. ...


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