United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
THOMAS D. SCHROEDER, District Judge.
Plaintiff John Reece brought this action pursuant to Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), as amended (42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Act. (Doc. 1.) The parties have filed cross-motions for judgment (Docs. 17, 19), and the administrative record has been certified to the court for review. For the reasons set forth below, Reece's motion will be granted to the extent described below, the Commissioner's motion will be denied, and the matter will be remanded to the Commissioner.
Reece filed his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") on June 16, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of December 15, 2005. (Tr. at 177-83.) His application was denied initially (id. at 81) and upon reconsideration (id. at 98). Thereafter, Reece requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Id. at 132-33.) Reece, along with his attorney and a vocational expert ("VE"), attended the subsequent hearing on June 12, 2012. (Id. at 30.) The ALJ ultimately determined that Reece was not disabled within the meaning of the Act (id. at 25) and, on September 20, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Reece's request for review of the decision, thereby making the ALJ's conclusion the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review (id. at 1-3).
In rendering his disability determination, the ALJ made the following findings later adopted by the Commissioner:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2010.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of December 15, 2005, through his date last insured of December 31, 2010 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. ).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: bilateral knee osteoarthritis; degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine; status post fractures of the right upper extremity; and anxiety disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except that he can occasionally push/pull with his right lower extremity. He can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He can frequently, but not continuously, reach, handle, and finger with his right upper extremity. He can occasionally gauge depth perception; he requires the use of a knee brace; and he must avoid even moderate exposure to hazardous conditions. He retains the mental residual functional capacity to perform simple, routine tasks; follow simple, short instructions; make simple, work-related decisions; adapt to a few workplace changes; and have occasional interaction with the general public.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to perform any past relevant ...