Simon v. Colvin
ORDER GRANTING 27 Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and DENYING 32 Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. This case is remanded for an award of benefits. Signed by US District Judge Terrence W. Boyle on 9/27/2014. (Fisher, M.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the
pleadings. [DE 27 & 32]. A hearing on this matter was held in Raleigh, North Carolina on
September 19, 2014 at 10:30 a.m. The Commissioner appeared at the hearing via video feed. For
the reasons discussed below, plaintiffs motion is GRANTED, defendant's motion is DENIED,
and, accordingly, the judgment of the Commissioner is REVERSED.
On June 2, 2010, plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income. Her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. An
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") then held a hearing and issued an unfavorable decision that
plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff having exhausted her administrative remedies, and the ALJ' s
decision being the Commissioner's final decision, plaintiff now seeks judicial review pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Plaintiff was born in 1984, completed the ninth grade and has a limited work history as a
cashier. [Tr. 19, 304-05, 313]. Plaintiff alleges that she suffers from hydrocephalus, tachycardia,
scoliosis, depression, dyslexia, herpes, anxiety, "crippling pain in side and back," and headaches.
When a social security claimant appeals a final decision of the Commissioner, the district
court's review is limited to the determination of whether, based on the entire administrative
record, there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's findings. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Substantial evidence is defined as "evidence
which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion." Shively v.
Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984) (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th
Cir. 1966)). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by such evidence, it must be affirmed.
Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996).
In making a disability determination, the ALJ engages in a five-step evaluation process.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650 (4th Cir. 2005). The analysis
requires the ALJ to consider the following enumerated factors sequentially. At step one, if the
claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, the claim is denied. At step two, the
claim is denied if the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments
significantly limiting him or her from performing basic work activities. At step three, the
claimant's impairment is compared to those in the Listing of Impairments. See 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, App. 1. If the impairment is listed in the Listing of Impairments or if it is
equivalent to a listed impairment, disability is conclusively presumed. However, if the claimant's
impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment then, at step four, the claimant's residual
functional capacity ("RFC") is assessed to determine whether plaintiff can perform his past work
despite his impairments. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the analysis moves
on to step five: establishing whether the claimant, based on his age, work experience, and RFC
can perform other substantial gainful work. The burden of proof is on the claimant for the first
four steps of this inquiry, but shifts to the Commissioner at the fifth step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d
1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995).
Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ' s decision is not supported by substantial evidence as he
improperly evaluated the medical record and plaintiffs credibility when forming the RFC. The
ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of: history of congenital hydrocephalus with
shunt placement, headaches, high blood pressure, scoliosis, tachycardia, and depression. [Tr. 12].
The ALJ then found that plaintiff had an RFC of light with occasional climbing of stairs and
ramps, bending, balancing, stooping, crawling, kneeling, and crouching. He also found that she
must avoid temperature extremes and that she was limited to low production or low stress
occupations that do not require complex decision-making, constant change, or dealing with crises
situations. [Tr 15].
The Court finds that the ALJ erred in determining plaintiffs RFC to be light and in
finding that there were jobs in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. The ALJ found
plaintiff to have congenital hydrocephalus with headaches. [Tr. 15]. The record further indicates
that plaintiff has undergone approximately 20 shunt revision surgeries and that her headaches are
chronic and intractable. The ALJ' s finding that plaintiffs testimony regarding her chronic
headaches was lacking in credibility on the premise that she had not experienced any
exacerbations of her hydrocephalus is obviously erroneous. [Tr. 16]. Plaintiff has struggled with
her condition since she was born, was unable to participate in regular classes as a child, did not
go to high school and was later unable to engage in sustained work activity due to her
complicated history of shunted hydrocephalus. [Tr. 256, 283, 412-13]. Indeed, the only work
history she has is due to her father being the manager of the convenience store which employed
her. [Tr. 580, 916]. When in a competitive work environment for another employer, she was
quickly terminated after missing substantial amounts of work due to her medical absences. [Tr.
The evidence in the record clearly establishes plaintiffs lengthy history with
hydrocephalus and the headaches doctors attributed to the condition. [Tr. 461-62, 519, 523, 587,
607, 619, 791]. Further it is clear that the headaches persisted throughout the relevant time
period. [Tr. 409-10, 507, 892, 911, 916, 920, 927, 936, 985, 998, 1013]. Hydrocephalus is a
condition from which one does not simply recover. At best it is managed. Here, the evidence in
the record shows that plaintiffs condition is not being managed in a manner that might allow her
to work. She clearly suffers from debilitating headaches that are supported by the record and
cannot maintain employment in the competitive market. Accordingly the ALJ erred in finding
that she has an RFC at light and that there are jobs in the national economy that she can perform.
Due to her persistent headaches it is clear that plaintiff cannot maintain any kind of employment
in the national economy and is therefore entitled to benefits. Accordingly the decision of the
Commissioner is reversed and the matter is remanded to the Agency for an award of benefits.
For the foregoing reasons, the plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings is
GRANTED, and the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED. Accordingly, this case is
REMANDED for an award of benefits consistent with this Order.
SO ORDERED. Thisa.J.day of September, 2014.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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