United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
JOI ELIZABETH PEAKE, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Isaac Hall ("Plaintiff") 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 his 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
The Social Security Administration ("SSA") found Plaintiff entitled to Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") as of February 15, 2007, based upon an application dated July 3, 2007. (Tr. at 420, 454.) However, the present case involves Plaintiff's previous DIB application. (Tr. at 420.) Plaintiff filed the application in question on March 19, 2003, alleging a disability onset date of February 1, 2001. (Tr. at 67-69.) His application was denied initially (Tr. at 52) and upon reconsideration (Tr. at 53-55). Plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") (Tr. at 64), which took place on November 29, 2005 (Tr. at 24-51). At that time, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to March 19, 2003. (Tr. at 100). The hearing resulted in an unfavorable decision, (Tr. at 10-20), which the Appeals Council upheld (Tr. at 5-7). However, Plaintiff filed a civil action in this Court (1:08CV354), and the Commissioner moved to remand the case for further proceedings, including vocational expert testimony. (Tr. at 506-18.)
On September 28, 2010, Plaintiff, his attorney, and a vocational expert attended Plaintiff's hearing on remand. (Tr. at 420-21, 898-933). The ALJ ultimately determined that, between March 19, 2003 and February 14, 2007, Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act (Tr. at 428-29) and, on March 30, 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 409-11).
In rendering his disability determination, the ALJ made the following findings later adopted by the Commissioner:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2010.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) during the period in question[, ] March 19, 2003, the alleged onset date, through February 14, 2007, the date from which he was previously determined to be disabled (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. )
3. During the period in question, the claimant had the following severe impairments: history of per[n]icious anemia, history of hepatitis B, low back disorder, and depression (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled 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, I find that, during the period in question, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work, as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c), with no lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling more than 25 pounds frequently and 50 pounds occasionally; no climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds; no more than occasional climbing of ramps or stairs; no more than frequent balancing, stooping, crouching, kneeling or crawling; and avoidance of concentrated exposure to moving machinery or unprotected heights. He was also limited to performing simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a low-stress setting (requiring no more than occasional decision-making and no more than occasional changes in the work setting) with no production rate or paced work (such as would be done on an assembly line).
(Tr. at 423-25.)
The ALJ then considered the vocational expert's testimony regarding the above residual functional capacity ("RFC") and determined that, during the period in question, Plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work as a hospital cleaner. (Tr. at 428.) Plaintiff therefore was not under a "disability, " as defined in the Act, prior to February 15, 2007. (Tr. at 429.)
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 ...