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Oates v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

August 24, 2017

STACY NELSON OATES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          David C. Keesler United States Magistrate Judge.

         THIS MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Plaintiff's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 16) and Defendant's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 18). The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B), and these motions are ripe for disposition. After careful consideration of the written arguments, the administrative record, and applicable authority, the undersigned will direct that Plaintiff's “Motion For Summary Judgment” be denied; that Defendant's “Motion For Summary Judgment” be denied; and that the Commissioner's decision be vacated and this matter be remanded for further consideration.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Stacy Oates (“Plaintiff”), through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on his application for disability benefits. (Document No. 1). On or about August 23, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1383, alleging an inability to work due to a disabling condition beginning January 1, 2011. (Transcript of the Record of Proceedings (“Tr.”) 32). The Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denied Plaintiff's application initially on or about April 19, 2013, and again after reconsideration on or about June 13, 2013. (Tr. 32, 117, 126). In its “Notice of Reconsideration, ” the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) included the following explanation of its decision:

On your application you stated that you are disabled because of Bipolar Disorder, High Blood Pressure, Pain, Anxiety, Reflux and Schizophrenia.
The medical evidence shows that your condition is not severe enough to be considered disabling. We realize that your condition keeps you from doing some types of work, but it does not keep you from doing less demanding work. Based on your age, education, and past work experience, you can do other work. It has been decided, therefore, that you are not disabled according to the Social Security Act. You are able to think, act in your own interest, communicate, handle your own affairs, and adjust to ordinary emotional stresses without significant difficulties.
We do not have sufficient vocational information to determine whether you can perform any of your past relevant work. However, based on the evidence in file, we have determined that you can adjust to other work.

(Tr. 126).

         Plaintiff filed a timely written request for a hearing on or about June 22, 2013. (Tr. 32). On January 15, 2015, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Clinton C. Hicks (the “ALJ”). (Tr. 33, 45-78). In addition, Brenda Cartwright, a vocational expert (“VE”), and Bradford D. Myler, Plaintiff's attorney, appeared at the hearing. (Tr. 32, 47, 74-78). Plaintiff amended his alleged disability onset date to August 23, 2012. (Tr. 49).

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 6, 2015, denying Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 32-40). On or about May 12, 2015, Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on or about August 25, 2016. (Tr. 1-4, 28). The ALJ decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's review request. (Tr. 1).

         Plaintiff's “Complaint” seeking a reversal of the ALJ's determination was filed in this Court on October 20, 2016. (Document No. 1). On January 11, 2017, the undersigned was assigned to this case as the referral Magistrate Judge. The parties filed a “Joint Stipulation of Consent to Jurisdiction By U.S. Magistrate Judge” (Document No. 11) on May 2, 2017. On May 2, 2017, the case was reassigned to the undersigned.

         On May 31, 2017, the Court granted Plaintiff's consent motion for an extension of time to file a motion for summary judgment. (Document No. 15). In addition, the Court ordered “that Plaintiff's counsel shall confer with Defendant's counsel prior to filing a motion for summary judgment and discuss Plaintiff's alleged errors, as well as whether Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632 (4th Cir. 2015), is applicable to this case.” Id. The record does not appear to indicate that the parties conferred as directed.

         Plaintiff's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 16) and “Plaintiff's Memorandum Of Law In Support Of A Motion For Summary Judgment Pursuant To Fed.R.Civ.P. 56” (Document No. 17) were filed June 29, 2017; and Defendant's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 18) and “Memorandum Of Law In Support Of The Commissioner's Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 19) were filed July 27, 2017.[1] Plaintiff declined to file a response/reply brief, and the time to do so has lapsed. See “Social Security Briefing Order, ” Case No. 3:13-MC-198-FDW, (Document No. 1) (W.D. N.C. Dec. 23, 2013).

         The pending motions are now ripe for review and disposition.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3), limits this Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner to: (1) whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision; and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Richardson v. ...


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