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Bunton v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

February 18, 2014

SAMUEL W. BUNTON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

L. PATRICK AULD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Samuel W. Bunton, brought this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. ยง 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") under Title II 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 12, 15). For the reasons that follow, the Court should enter judgment for Defendant.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging a disability onset date of December 13, 2003. (Tr. 54-55, 67.) After denial of the application, both initially (Tr. 30, 36-39) and on reconsideration (Tr. 29, 32-34), Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") (Tr. 31). Plaintiff, his attorney, and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared at the hearing. (Tr. 420-50.) The ALJ thereafter determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. 10-23.) The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. (Tr. 5-8.)

In rendering this disability ruling, the ALJ made the following findings later adopted by the Commissioner:

1. [Plaintiff] meets the insured status requirements of the... Act through December 31, 2008.
2. [Plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 13, 2003, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. ).
3. [Plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: Fibromyalgia; Osteoporosis; Irritable Bowel Syndrome; Work-Related Injury to Left Shoulder (on alleged onset date), Status Post Corrective Surgery; Minimal to Mild Cervical Disk Disease; and Mild Coronary Atherosclerosis (20 CFR 404.1521 et seq. ).
...
4. [Plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1525 and 404.1526).
...
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c). [Plaintiff] has the ability to lift and carry 25 pounds frequently and 50 pounds occasionally; he has the ability to stand and walk (with normal breaks) for at least 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; he has the ability to sit (with normal breaks) for at least 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; he should avoid frequent ascending and descending stairs; he can perform pushing and pulling motions with his upper and lower extremities within the afore-mentioned weight restrictions; he can perform the following postural activities without restrictions: balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching or crawling; and he has no visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. Further, [Plaintiff] has retained the mental capacity to perform either skilled or semi-skilled work activity on a sustained basis.

(Tr. 15-20.)

In light of the foregoing findings regarding residual functional capacity, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a mechanic. (Tr. 22.) Alternatively, the ALJ adopted the VE's opinion that Plaintiff's acquired job skills would transfer to three jobs at the light level of exertion available in significant numbers in the national economy. (Id.) Accordingly, the ALJ ruled that Plaintiff did not have a "disability, " as defined in the Act, at any time from the alleged onset date through the date of the decision. (Tr. 22-23.)

DISCUSSION

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 ...


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