United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED
STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge.
Gail Crabtree, 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 Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).
(Docket Entry 1.) Defendant has filed the certified
administrative record (Docket Entry 7 (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)). For the reasons that follow,
the Court should enter judgment for Defendant.
applied for DIB, alleging an onset date of January 1, 2011.
(Tr. 199-200.) Upon denial of that application initially (Tr.
77-90, 113-16) and on reconsideration (Tr. 91-105, 117-24),
Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 111-12).
Plaintiff, her attorney, and a vocational expert
(“VE”) attended the hearing. (Tr. 34-76.) The ALJ
subsequently ruled that Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled
under the Act. (Tr. 17-29.) The Appeals Council thereafter
denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6, 14-16,
282-87), 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] last met the insured status requirements of
the . . . Act on December 31, 2014.
2. [Plaintiff] did not engage in substantial gainful activity
from her alleged onset date of January 1, 2011 through her
date last insured of December 31, 2014.
3. Through the date last insured, [Plaintiff] had the
following severe impairments: status post subtotal colectomy
and fistula repair, with residual effects of urgency and
incontinence; mood disorder; and anxiety disorder.
4. Through the date last insured, [Plaintiff] did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. . . . [T]hrough the date last insured, [Plaintiff] had the
residual functional capacity to perform medium work . . .
except limited to occasional climbing of ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; no operation of a motor vehicle at night; and only
occasional exposure to extreme heat. [Plaintiff] is mentally
limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks.
6. Through the date last insured, [Plaintiff] was unable to
perform any past relevant work.
10. Through the date last insured, considering
[Plaintiff's] age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in
significant No. in the national economy that [she] could have
11. [Plaintiff] was not under a disability, as defined in the
. . . Act, at any time from January 1, 2011, the alleged
onset date, through December 31, 2014, the date last insured.
(Tr. 22-29 (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).
Plaintiff 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
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, ...