United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED
STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
PATRICK AULD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Michael Ray Norman, 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 2.) Defendant has filed the certified
administrative record (Docket Entry 8 (cited herein as
“Tr.__ ”)), and both parties have moved for
judgment (Docket Entries 10, 13; see also Docket
Entry 11 (Plaintiff's Memorandum); Docket Entry 14
(Defendant's Memorandum); Docket Entry 15
(Plaintiff's Reply)). For the reasons that follow, the
Court should remand this matter for an award of benefits.
applied for SSI. (Tr. 338-43.) Upon denial of that
application initially (Tr. 172-85, 219-22) and on
reconsideration (Tr. 186-200, 228-37), Plaintiff requested a
hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) (Tr. 238-40). Plaintiff, his attorney,
and a vocational expert (“VE”) attended the
hearing. (Tr. 123-71.) The ALJ subsequently ruled that
Plaintiff qualified as disabled under the Act since May 13,
2012, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 201-12.) The Appeals
Council thereafter issued a notice (Tr. 284-88) that it
planned to “set aside the favorable hearing decision
and send [Plaintiff's] case back to an [ALJ] for more
action and a new decision” (Tr. 285). After considering
argument and new evidence submitted by Plaintiff's
counsel (see Tr. 458-59), the Appeals Council
entered an order remanding the case to an ALJ for further
proceedings. (Tr. 213-19.)
his attorney, a medical expert (“ME”), and a VE
attended the second hearing. (Tr. 53-122.) The ALJ
subsequently ruled that Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled
under Act. (Tr. 7-27.) The Appeals Council thereafter denied
Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6, 48-51, 479-82),
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 July 26, 2012, the application date.
2. [Plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: status
post deep laceration to the right wrist with repair; status
post left ankle injury and surgical repair; knee pain due to
internal derangement of the knee; chondromalacia; borderline
intellectual functioning; substance addiction; r/o mood
disorder; and r/o anti-social personality.
. . .
3. [Plaintiff's] impairments, including the substance
abuse disorder, meet section 12.04 (Affective Disorders) of
20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
. . .
4. If [Plaintiff] stopped the substance use, the remaining
limitations would cause more than a minimal impact on
[Plaintiff's] ability to perform basic work activities;
therefore, [Plaintiff] would continue to have a severe
impairment or combination of impairments.
5. If [Plaintiff] stopped the substance use, [Plaintiff]
would not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that meets or medically equals any of the impairments listed
in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
. . .
6. If [Plaintiff] stopped the substance use, [Plaintiff]
would have the residual functional capacity to perform light
work . . . except that he is limited to frequent but not
continuous pushing and pulling with the right upper extremity
with no limitation in pushing or pulling with the left
extremity. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs but
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can engage in
occasional balancing, stooping, crouching, and crawling. He
can engage in handling and fingering with the right hand that
is frequent but not continuous. There are no manipulative
limitations with the left upper extremity. He should avoid
concentrated exposure to the operational control of moving
machinery and working at unprotected heights. He is also
limited to performing simple routine repetitive tasks in a
low stress work setting that involves only occasional changes
in the work setting and has no pace or production
requirements. He can handle occasional interaction with the
public and coworkers and can respond appropriately to
. . .
7. If [Plaintiff] stopped the substance use, [Plaintiff]
would be unable to perform past relevant work.
. . .
11. If [Plaintiff] stopped the substance use, considering
[Plaintiff's] age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity, there would be a significant
number of jobs in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can
. . .
12. The substance use disorder is a contributing factor
material to the determination of disability because
[Plaintiff] would not be disabled if he stopped the substance
use. Because the substance use disorder is a contributing
factor material to the determination of disability,
[Plaintiff] has not been disabled within the meaning of the .
. . [Act] at any time from the date the application was filed
through the date of this decision.
(Tr. 13-27 (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. ...