United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
ANITA G. ALLEN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED
STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge.
Anita G. Allen, 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 9, 12; see also Docket Entry 10
(Plaintiff's Memorandum); Docket Entry 13
(Defendant's Memorandum)). For the reasons that follow,
the Court should remand this matter for further
applied for DIB, alleging an onset date of April 1, 2010.
(Tr. 169-78.) Upon denial of that application initially
(Tr. 62-74, 93-101) and on reconsideration (Tr. 75-90,
103-10), Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 111-12).
Plaintiff, her non-attorney representative, and a vocational
expert (“VE”) attended the hearing. (Tr. 29-61.)
The ALJ subsequently ruled that Plaintiff did not qualify as
disabled under the Act. (Tr. 10-22.) The Appeals Council
thereafter denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr.
1-6, 7-8, 280-82), making the ALJ's ruling the
Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial
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 September 30, 2013.
2. [Plaintiff] did not engage in substantial gainful activity
during the period from her alleged onset date of May 1, 2011
through her date last insured of September 30, 2013.
3. Through the date last insured, [Plaintiff] had the
following severe impairments: cervical degenerative disc
disease status post-ACDF; left shoulder strain status
post-surgery; lumbar degenerative disc disease; right knee
strain status post-tibial plateau fracture, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); and obesity.
. . .
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 sedentary work . . .
except [she] can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, can
frequently climb ramps and stairs, can occasionally balance,
can frequently kneel, stoop, and crouch, and can occasionally
crawl. [Plaintiff] can never push or pull with the left upper
extremity and can never reach overhead with the left upper
extremity, which is the non-dominant hand. [Plaintiff] would
need to avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts,
gases, poor ventilation, extreme heat and hazards.
. . .
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 [Plaintiff]
could have performed.
. . .
11. [Plaintiff] was not under a disability, as defined in the
. . . Act, at any time from May 1, 2011, through September
30, 2013, the date last insured.
(Tr. 15-22 (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). Even given those
limitations, the Court should remand this case for further
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 ...