United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
L. PATRICK AULD, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Sally Harshaw Ramsey, brought this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. § 405(g)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security, denying Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). (See Docket Entry 1.) The Court has before it the certified administrative record (cited herein as "Tr. __") and the parties have filed cross-motions for judgment (Docket Entries 7, 11). For the reasons that follow, the Court should enter judgment for Defendant.
Plaintiff first applied for DIB and SSI on May 1, 2006, alleging a disability onset date of April 1, 2005. (Tr. 156-66.) Following denial of those applications at the initial level because Plaintiff's gainful employment after her onset date disqualified her for benefits (Tr. 199-200), Plaintiff filed second applications for DIB and SSI, again alleging a disability onset of April 1, 2005 (Tr. 167-80). Upon denial of those applications both initially (Tr. 83-84, 89-100) and on reconsideration (Tr. 85-86, 105-22), Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") (Tr. 123-24). Plaintiff, her attorney, and a vocational expert ("VE") attended the hearing. (Tr. 33-78.) The ALJ then ruled Plaintiff not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 12-26.) The Appeals Council thereafter denied Plaintiff's request for review, thus making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. (Tr. 1-5.)
In ruling Plaintiff ineligible for disability benefits, the ALJ made the following findings later adopted by the Commissioner:
1. [Plaintiff] meets the insured status requirements of the... Act through December 31, 2011.
2. [Plaintiff] engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 1, 2005, the alleged onset date... [but not after she] was involved in a motor vehicle accident on May 15, 2006....
3. [Plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: post traumatic stress disorder; bipolar disorder; congestive heart failure; hypertension; obesity and asthma (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. [Plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling no more than 10 pounds at a time. [Plaintiff] can sit 6 hours in an 8 hour workday, and stand and walk 2 hours in an 8 hour workday. She could kneel, or crawl and stoop or crouch but not climb or balance. She has no significant visual, manipulative or communication limitations. An environmental limitation would be avoidance of respiratory irritants. Due to her depression and anxiety she is limited to understanding and carrying out simple, routine, repetitive tasks with occasional contact with co-workers and no contact with the public and no work requiring operation of a motor vehicle.
In light of the findings regarding residual functional capacity ("RFC"), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work as a community support provider, data entry clerk, cashier, and kitchen helper. (Tr. 24.) However, based on the VE's testimony, and after considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform." (Id.) Accordingly, the ALJ ruled that Plaintiff had no "disability, " as defined in the Act, at any time from her onset date through the date of decision. (Tr. 26.)
Federal law "authorizes judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's denial of social security benefits." Hines v. Barnhart , 453 F.3d 559, 561 (4th Cir. 2006). However, "the scope of... review of [such a] decision... is extremely limited." Frady v. Harris , 646 F.2d 143, 144 (4th Cir. 1981). "The courts are not to try the case de novo." Oppenheim v. Finch , 495 F.2d 396, 397 (4th Cir. 1974). Instead, "a reviewing court must uphold the factual findings of the ALJ [underlying the denial of benefits] if they are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard." Hines , 453 F.3d at 561 (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted).
"Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Hunter v. Sullivan , 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992) (quoting Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971)). "It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Mastro v. Apfel , 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted). "If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a ...