United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division
FRANK D. WHITNEY, District Judge.
THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 10) and "Memorandum in Support..." (Doc. No. 11), both filed May 7, 2014; Defendant Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 12); and the Magistrate Judge's Memorandum and Recommendation ("M&R") (Doc. No. 13) that recommends Plaintiff's Motion be denied, Defendant's Motion be granted, and the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. After Plaintiff filed objections to the M&R (Doc. No. 14), and Defendant filed a response to Plaintiff's objections (Doc. No. 15), this matter is now ripe for review. For the reasons set forth, the Court OVERRULES Plaintiff's objections, ACCEPTS and ADOPTS the M&R, DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, and AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.
Plaintiff does not lodge any specific objections to the procedural history section contained in the M&R. Likewise, Plaintiff does not specifically object to the ALJ findings of fact regarding Plaintiff's medical history. Therefore, the portion of the M&R entitled "Procedural History" is hereby adopted and incorporated by reference as if fully set forth herein.
On November 24, 2003, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and Social Security disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act alleging that he was unable to work as of March 15, 2003. (Tr. 31).
On September 26, 2006, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 28-39), and Plaintiff did not appeal the Appeals Council's denial of his request for review.
In December 2007, Plaintiff filed a second application for Title II disability insurance benefits, which was denied by the Commissioner. (Doc. No. 11). Plaintiff appealed the Commissioner's decision to the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. See Mitchell v. Astrue , 5:08-cv-70-RLV-CH. Thereafter, on March 6, 2009, the court granted the parties' consent motion to remand. ( Id., Doc. No. 15). On rehearing, the ALJ was instructed to:
Reevaluate the evidence in the record, including the new evidence submitted with the request for Appeals Council review, to determine if Plaintiff's alleged impairments of substance abuse disorder, encephalopathy, and depression are severe impairments; reevaluate the state agency physician's mental residual functional capacity assessment to determine whether Plaintiff's alleged substance abuse disorder, encephalopathy, and depression cause nonexertional limitations; and, obtain evidence from a vocational expert to determine the extent to which Plaintiff's nonexertional limitations, including those experienced as side effects of Plaintiff's medication, erode the occupational base for light work and to determine whether Plaintiff can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national or regional economy.
( Id., Doc. No. 13). On July 1, 2010, the Appeals Council remanded the case with specific instructions to further consider certain evidence, including Plaintiff's encephalopathy. (Tr. 493). On April 6, 2011, the ALJ issued a new decision, again denying Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 665, 673). On July 17, 2012, the Appeals Council remanded the case a second time with instructions to give further consideration to Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") and the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Reindollar. (Tr. 674). On October 24, 2012, another hearing was held, which resulted in the ALJ issuing another denial of Plaintiff's claim on November 30, 2012. (Tr. 473).
The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity between his alleged onset date of March 15, 2003, and his date last insured on September 30, 2006. (Tr. 460). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff suffered from alcoholism, hepatitis C infection with encephalopathy, cirrhosis of the liver, and degenerative disk disease, which were severe impairments within the meaning of the regulations (Tr. 461) but did not meet or equal any listing in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appt. 1. (Tr. 462). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b),  with limitations of a sit/stand option that allowed occasional changes of position; no more than occasional stooping, kneeling, and squatting; and performance of simple, routine, repetitive tasks involving only one or two step instructions. (Tr. 464). Based upon this RFC and the testimony from a Vocational Expert ("V.E."), the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work but that there were a significant number of jobs in the regional and national economy that he could perform. (Tr. 471-473). Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 473). Plaintiff's Request for Review by the Appeals Council was denied.
After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for further administrative review, Plaintiff filed the present action on December 20, 2013. The parties submitted cross dispositive Motions for Summary Judgment, and the Magistrate Judge in the aforementioned M&R held that the ALJ correctly found that Plaintiff was not disabled, as substantial evidence existed to make that ultimate determination.
Plaintiff timely filed an objection to the M&R on three grounds: (1) the ALJ erred in finding that Dr. Reindollar's opinion regarding Plaintiff's encephalopathy was inconsistent with the evidence; (2) the M&R applied flawed reasoning in considering the ALJ's alleged failure to consider the testimony of Plaintiff's wife; and (3) the ALJ failed to mention Plaintiff's need to use the restroom several times a day to the Vocational Expert in the hypothetical question. (Doc. No. 14).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A. Review of the Commissioner's ...