United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
DAN P. SHORT, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM L. OSTEEN, Jr., District Judge.
Plaintiff Dan P. Short ("Plaintiff") brought this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act ("Act"), codified as amended at 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Act.
Plaintiff subsequently filed a Motion for Judgment Reversing or Modifying the Decision of the Commissioner or Remanding the Cause for a Hearing (Doc. 10), and the Commissioner filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Doc. 12.) Additionally, the administrative record has been certified to this court for review.
For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion will be granted, Plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner and request for remand will be denied, and the case will be dismissed.
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff applied for DIB on March 13, 2008, alleging a disability beginning on November 1, 2006. (Tr. at 15.) After his claim was denied initially (id. at 70-73) and upon reconsideration (id. at 81-85), Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") (id. at 86). The hearing was held on April 1, 2010. (Id. at 30-67). In a decision dated September 2, 2010, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application. (Id. at 15-29.) On April 3, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (id. at 1-5), and Plaintiff filed the present action on June 4, 2012.
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia; degenerative disc disease; cervical spondylosis; right third finger triggering; idiopathic axonal neuropathy; high frequency sensorineural hearing loss; bipolar disorder; and substance abuse disorder, in remission. (Tr. at 17.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet or equal a listing impairment. (Id. at 20.)
The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work with the following limitations: limited to jobs requiring frequent but not constant bilateral fingering; restricted from concentrated exposure to hazards; and limited to jobs performing simple, routine, repetitive tasks and requiring only minimal interaction and performed at a non-production pace and in a low-stress environment. (Id. at 22.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform the requirements of his past relevant work, but that considering his age, education, work experience and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy which he was capable of performing, including: floor waxer and industrial cleaner (medium), mailroom clerk (light), and ink printer (sedentary). (Id. at 27-28.) Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. (Id. at 29.)
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Federal law authorizes judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's denial of social security benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 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 through application of the correct legal standard." Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation omitted).
"Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1993) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971)). "It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is substantial evidence." Hunter, 993 F.2d at 34 (internal quotation marks omitted).
"In reviewing for substantial evidence, the court should not undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the [ALJ]." Mastro, 270 F.3d at 176 (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted). "Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the ALJ." Hancock, 667 F.3d at 472.
In undertaking this limited review, the court notes that "[a] claimant for disability benefits bears the burden of proving a disability." Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264 (4th Cir. 1981). In this context, "disability" means the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.'" Id . (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)).
"The Commissioner uses a five-step process to evaluate disability claims." Hancock, 667 F.3d at 472 (citing 20 C.F.R. ...