United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
AARON L. JONES, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,  Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
JOI ELIZABETH PEAKE, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Aaron Jones ("Plaintiff") brought this action pursuant to Section 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), as amended (42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act. The parties have filed cross-motions for judgment, and the administrative record has been certified to the Court for review.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff protectively filed his application for Supplemental Security Income Benefits ("SSI") on May 19, 2008, alleging a disability onset date of January 5, 2007. (Tr. at 106-31.) His applications were denied initially (Tr. at 31) and upon reconsideration (Tr. at 32). Thereafter, he requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") (Tr. at 4), which Plaintiff attended with his attorney on April 20, 2010 (Tr. at 9). The ALJ ultimately determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act (Tr. at 16) and, on September 24, 2010, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the decision, thereby making the ALJ's conclusion the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review (Tr. at 1-3).
In rendering his disability determination, the ALJ made the following findings later adopted by the Commissioner:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 19, 2008, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq. ).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: history of stroke, depression, and left eye vision (20 CFR 416.920(c))
3. The claimant 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 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926)
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c) except no working around heights, no climbing, no working around hazardous machinery, and no detailed visual requirement.
(Tr. at 11, 13, and 14.)
Considering Plaintiff's age and education, along with the above findings regarding residual functional capacity ("RFC"), the ALJ ultimately determined that Plaintiff could perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. at 15.) He therefore determined that Plaintiff was not under a "disability, " as defined in the Act, from his alleged onset date through the date of the decision. (Tr. at 16.)
II. LEGAL STANDARD
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 if they are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard." Hancock v. Astrue , 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation 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. 1993) (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 citations and quotation marks omitted). "If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a ...