United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED
STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge.
Elbert Leon Chambers, Jr., brought this action pursuant to
the Social Security Act (the “Act”) to obtain
judicial review of a final decision of Defendant, the Acting
Commissioner of Social Security, denying Plaintiff's
claim for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”).
(Docket Entry 1.) Defendant has filed the certified
administrative record (Docket Entry 9 (cited herein as
“Tr. ___”)), and both parties have moved for
judgment (Docket Entries 11, 13; see also Docket
Entry 12 (Plaintiff's Memorandum); Docket Entry 14
(Defendant's Memorandum)). For the reasons that follow,
the Court should enter judgment for Defendant.
applied for SSI. (Tr. 190-98.) Upon denial of that
application initially (Tr. 80-99, 118-22) and on
reconsideration (Tr. 100-17, 130-34), Plaintiff requested a
hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) (Tr. 135-37). Plaintiff, his attorney,
and a vocational expert (“VE”) attended the
hearing. (Tr. 55-69.) The ALJ subsequently ruled that
Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled under the Act. (Tr.
9-24.) The Appeals Council thereafter denied Plaintiff's
request for review (Tr. 1-6, 7-8, 285-93), thereby making the
ALJ's ruling the Commissioner's final decision for
purposes of judicial review.
rendering that disability determination, the ALJ made the
following findings later adopted by the Commissioner:
1. [Plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since September 30, 2013, the application date.
2. [Plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: diabetes
mellitus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), chronic
obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), asthma, depression,
degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, anxiety, diabetic
neuropathy, lumbar radiculopathy, and polysubstance abuse.
. . .
3. [Plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
. . .
4. . . . [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to
perform light work . . . except that [Plaintiff]: can
frequently, but not continuously, perform all postural
activities; must avoid ladders, ropes, scaffolds, unprotected
heights, and machinery with dangerous parts; needs an
assistive device to ambulate; can follow short, simple
instructions and perform routine tasks, but cannot perform
work requiring a production rate or demand pace; is able to
sustain attention and concentration for two hours at a time;
can frequently, but not continuously, have contact or
interactions with the public; must avoid concentrated
exposure to respiratory irritants; should avoid work
environments dealing with crisis situations, complex decision
making, or constant changes in a routine setting.
. . .
5. [Plaintiff] has no past relevant work.
. . .
9. Considering [Plaintiff's] age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that [Plaintiff] can perform.
. . .
10. [Plaintiff] has not been under a disability, as defined
in the  Act, since September 30, 2013, the date the
application was filed.
(Tr. 14-24 (bold font and internal parenthetical citations
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 [the Court's] review
of [such a] decision . . . is extremely limited.”
Frady v. Harris, 646 F.2d 143, 144 (4th Cir. 1981).
has not established entitlement to relief under the extremely
limited review standard.
Standard of Review
are not to try [a Social Security] case de novo.”
Oppenheim v. Finch, 495 F.2d 396, 397 (4th Cir.
1974). Instead, the 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.” Hines, 453 F.3d at 561
(internal brackets and quotation marks 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. 1992) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (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)
(brackets and internal 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).
reviewing for substantial evidence, the [C]ourt should not
undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the
[ALJ, as adopted by the Commissioner].”
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
[Commissioner] (or the ALJ).” Id. at 179
(internal quotation marks omitted). “The issue before
[the Court], therefore, is not whether [the claimant] is
disabled, but whether the ALJ's finding that [the
claimant] is not disabled is supported by substantial
evidence and was reached based upon a correct application of
the relevant law.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d
585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996).
confronting that issue, the Court must take note that
“[a] claimant for disability benefits bears the burden
of proving a disability, ” Hall v. Harris, 658
F.2d 260, 264 (4th Cir. 1981), and that, 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)). “To regularize the adjudicative
process, the Social Security Administration has . . .
detailed regulations incorporating longstanding
medical-vocational evaluation policies that take into account
a claimant's age, education, and work experience in
addition to [the claimant's] medical condition.”
Id. “These regulations establish a
‘sequential evaluation process' to determine
whether a claimant is disabled.” Id.
sequential evaluation process (“SEP”) has up to
five steps: “The claimant (1) must not be engaged in
‘substantial gainful activity, ' i.e.,
currently working; and (2) must have a ‘severe'
impairment that (3) meets or exceeds the ‘listings'
of specified impairments, or is otherwise incapacitating to
the extent that the claimant does not possess the residual
functional capacity to (4) perform [the claimant's] past
work or (5) any other work.” Albright v.
Commissioner of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475
n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). A finding adverse to the claimant at any
of several points in the SEP forecloses an award and ends the
inquiry. For example, “[t]he first step determines
whether the claimant is engaged in ‘substantial gainful