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Debusk v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

August 26, 2014

ERICK C. DEBUSK, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

JOI ELIZABETH PEAKE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Erick Debusk ("Plaintiff") 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. ยงยง 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income under, respectively, Titles II and 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 applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income Benefits ("SSI") on December 20, 2006, alleging a disability onset date of April 15, 2006. (Tr. at 145-48, 150-54.)[2] His applications were denied initially (Tr. at 57-58) and upon reconsideration (Tr. at 59-60). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. at 74.) Plaintiff, along with his attorney and an impartial vocational expert, attended the subsequent hearing by video teleconference on June 19, 2009. (Tr. at 12.)[3] The ALJ ultimately determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act (Tr. at 22) and, on March 8, 2011, 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 1-5).

In rendering his disability determination, the ALJ made the following findings later adopted by the Commissioner:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2011.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 15, 2006, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq ., and 416.971 et seq .)
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments within the meaning of the Act, regulations, SSR 96-3p and Stone v. Heckler , 752 F.2d 1099 (5th Cir. 1985): HIV positive; bipolar disorder; and history of alcohol and cocaine abuse (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c))
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.925 and 416.926)
11. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can sit for 6 hours in an 8 hour day; he can stand or walk for a total of 3 hours in an 8 hour day, but he requires the option to sit at least every 20 minutes; he can lift 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; he may never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; he may occasionally climb stairs, stoop, kneel, crawl, or crouch; he should work indoors with ready access to bathroom facilities; he should have no more than occasional contact with the general public; and he should not work at a forced or assembly line pace.

(Tr. at 15-17.)

The ALJ then considered the vocational expert's testimony regarding the above residual functional capacity ("RFC") and determined that, although Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant work, he could perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. at 21.) Plaintiff therefore was not under a "disability, " as defined in the Act, from his alleged onset date through the date last insured. (Tr. at 21-22.)

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 ...


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