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Cole v. Colvin

United States District Court, Middle District of North Carolina

August 14, 2014

MACK JEFFREY COLE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

THOMAS D. SCHROEDER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Mack Jeffrey Cole brought this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. § 405(g)) (“the Act”), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for disability benefits. The parties have filed cross-motions for judgment, and the administrative record has been certified to the court for review. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner’s motion will be granted, Cole’s motions will be denied, and this case will be dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

For thirteen years, Cole worked for the North Carolina Department of Transportation as a general laborer, erecting roadway signs. (Tr. at 50, 53-54.)[1] In October 2005, as he was at work in a vehicle on the side of the highway, his vehicle was struck by an oncoming tractor-trailer. (Tr. at 50.) The injuries he sustained in that accident precipitated the current disability claim.

He first applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) on July 10, 2007, alleging a disability onset date of October 16, 2005, the date of the accident. (Tr. at 204-05.) His application was denied initially (Tr. at 136-39) and on reconsideration (Tr. at 143-150), and Cole requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. at 151-52). Present at the hearing, held on March 26, 2009, were Cole and his attorney. (Tr. at 90-117.) On July 21, 2009, the ALJ determined that Cole was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. at 120-30.) On March 23, 2011, the Appeals Council granted Cole’s request for review and remanded the case to the ALJ with specific instructions for further evaluation. (Tr. at 131-35.)

The same ALJ reviewed the case a second time, holding a hearing on January 24, 2012, at which Cole, his attorney, and a vocational expert (“VE”) were present. (Tr. at 43-89.) On March 20, 2012, the ALJ again determined that Cole was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. at 23-42.) On April 22, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Cole’s request for review, thereby making the ALJ’s determination the Commissioner’s final decision for purposes of judicial review. (Tr. at 8-13.)

In making the disability determination, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. [Cole] last met the insured status requirements of the . . . Act through December 31, 2011.
2. [Cole] did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of October 16, 2005 through his date last insured of December 31, 2011 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. Through the date last insured, [Cole] had the following severe impairments: organic brain syndrome; left shoulder dislocation status-post surgical repair; and mild degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine and thoracic spine (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. Through the date last insured, [Cole] 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, [Cole] had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except [that] he was limited to simple, repetitive work tasks in a low-stress setting with minimal social demands.

(Tr. at 28-30.)

In light of his findings regarding residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ determined that Cole would not be able to perform his past relevant work as a general laborer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which requires heavy physical labor. (Tr. at 35-36.) However, the ALJ found that other jobs available in significant numbers existed in the national economy that Cole could perform given his RFC and vocational abilities, including a dining room attendant, a night business cleaner, and a mail clerk. (Tr. at 36-37.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined that ...


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