United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MILDRED W. BAILEY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
JOI ELIZABETH PEAKE, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Mildred Bailey, brought this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. § 405(g)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (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 her application for Disability Insurance Benefits on April 11, 2006, alleging a disability onset date of February 7, 2006. (Tr. at 10, 112-16.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially (Tr. at 48) and upon reconsideration (Tr. at 49). Thereafter, she requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. at 78.) Plaintiff and her non-attorney representative attended a hearing on June 10, 2009, at which a vocational expert testified by phone. (Tr. at 10.) Following this proceeding, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act (Tr. at 18) and, on October 21, 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 1-5).
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 December 31, 2009.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 7, 2006, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. ).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: obesity, lumbar disc disease with failed laminectomy syndrome, and an affective disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. 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 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. 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). She is limited to performing no more than occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling. She is unable to work in hazardous settings or in temperature extremes. The claimant is limited to performing routine and repetitive tasks with only occasional public contact.
(Tr. at 12, 13, and 14.)
Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ also found that Plaintiff was unable to return to her past work as a bakery manager. (Tr. at 16.) However, considering Plaintiff's age and education, along with the above findings regarding Plaintiff's work experience and residual functional capacity ("RFC"), the ALJ ultimately determined that "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform." (Tr. at 17) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569 and 404.1569a). Accordingly, he determined that Plaintiff was not under a "disability, " as defined in the Act, from her alleged onset date of February 7, 2006 through the date of the decision. (Tr. at 18.)
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 ...