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Dry v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

July 29, 2015

DEWEY W. DRY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM L. OSTEEN, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Dewey W. Dry ("Plaintiff") brought this action pursuant to Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), as amended and codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying Plaintiff's claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits under Title II of the Act ("SSDI") and Supplemental Security Income benefits under Title XVI of the Act ("SSI").

Plaintiff subsequently filed a Motion for Judgment Reversing or Modifying the Decision of the Commissioner, or Remanding the Cause for a Rehearing (Doc. 9), and the Commissioner has filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Doc. 12). The administrative record has been certified to this court for review.[1]

For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion will be denied, Plaintiff's motion will be granted, and this case will be remanded for a rehearing pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed applications for SSDI and SSI benefits on July 22, 2009 and August 18, 2009, respectively, alleging a disability beginning on June 13, 2009. (Tr. at 171-77.) Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. ( Id. at 42-43, 76-84.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). ( Id. at 90-92.) The hearing was held on September 13, 2011. ( Id. at 9-25.) In a decision dated February 14, 2012, the ALJ found[2] Plaintiff was not disabled between June 13, 2009 and the day of the decision, and as a result, denied Plaintiff's claims. ( Id. at 61-71.) On February 8, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (id. at 1-3), and Plaintiff filed the present action on April 11, 2013.

In his decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: major depressive disorder; pain; fibromyalgia; and history of polysubstance abuse. (Tr. at 63.) However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. (Id.) The ALJ specifically considered Listing 1.02, defining "Major Dysfunction of a Joint, " and Listings 12.04 and 12.09, defining "Affective Disorders" and "Substance Addiction Disorders, " respectively. 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1.

The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC")[4] to perform "medium work, " as Plaintiff "can lift/carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently" and "can stand/walk 6 hours in an 8-hour day, and he can sit 6 hours in an 8-hour workday." The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's RFC had the following limitations: "[Plaintiff] is limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks, in a non-production low stress environment, with limited social interaction." (Tr. at 64).

Having determined Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. ( Id. at 69.) The ALJ then consulted the Medical-Vocational Guidelines outlined in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 2. Plaintiff's birthday is September 19, 1954, was 54 years old at the time he filed his applications, and was "an individual closely approaching advanced age." (Id.) However, by the time the ALJ rendered his decision in February 2012, Plaintiff met the definition of a "[p]erson of advanced age." See 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(e).

The ALJ found Plaintiff has a high school education and is able to communicate in English. (Tr. at 70.) The ALJ did not make a finding as to whether or not Plaintiff's skills are transferrable. Applying these factors, the ALJ found that, if Plaintiff could perform the full range of "medium work" and once Plaintiff reached "advanced age, " Plaintiff would meet the requirements of Medical-Vocational Guideline 203.15. (Id.) Rule 203.15 requires a finding of "not disabled." 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 2, tbl.3 § 203.15.

However, because Plaintiff could not perform the full range of medium work due to his limitations listed above, the ALJ used the Medical-Vocational Guidelines as a starting point and consulted a vocational expert. (Id.) The ALJ found that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he was able to perform, including cleaning positions, kitchen helper, and supply worker. ( Id. at 70-71.)

After the hearing, the ALJ left the record open so that Plaintiff could submit additional evidence. ( Id. at 24.) Plaintiff submitted a treatment note from Carolina Behavioral Care dated August 5, 2011 (id. at 513-15), and some of the therapy notes from Triumph, LLC (id. at 516-56). (See id. at 231.) The ALJ also added a medical source statement from a consultative psychological examination conducted by Dr. Carol M. Gibbs. ( Id. at 233, 557-60.) Plaintiff responded in opposition to this medical source statement. ( Id. at 234.) No evidence was provided as to Plaintiff's physical limitations during this period.

On February 14, 2012, the ALJ entered his decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. ( Id. at 61-71.) Plaintiff petitioned for review by the Appeals Council. ( Id. at 235-39.) As his appeal was pending, Plaintiff submitted additional medical evidence of Plaintiff's foot problems, specifically medical records from Plaintiff's podiatrist, Dr. Mark Pifer, dated January 7, 2011 through February 11, 2011. ( Id. at 5, 7, 561-63.) The Appeals Council reviewed this new evidence and the arguments made by Plaintiff but ultimately determined that there was no reason to review the decision of the ALJ. ( Id. at 1-2.)

With the Appeals Council denial of Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner (id. at 1), and Plaintiff filed the present action on April 11, 2013, challenging that decision. (Doc. 1.) The parties then each filed their ...


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