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Parker v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

February 15, 2019

BILLY E. PARKER, JR., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          L. Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff, Billy E. Parker, 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 claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). (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, 11; see also Docket Entry 10 (Plaintiff's Memorandum); Docket Entry 12 (Defendant's Memorandum)). For the reasons that follow, the Court should remand this matter for further administrative proceedings.


         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging an onset date of May 8, 2013. (Tr. 245-57.) Upon denial of those applications initially (Tr. 81-118, 159-64) and on reconsideration (Tr. 119-58, 167-75), Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 178-79). Plaintiff (proceeding pro se), his girlfriend, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. (Tr. 37-74.) The ALJ subsequently ruled that Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled under the Act. (Tr. 8-21.) The Appeals Council thereafter denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-7, 242-44, 434-36), thereby making the ALJ's ruling the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review.

         In rendering that disability determination, the ALJ made the following findings later adopted by the Commissioner:

1. [Plaintiff] meets the insured status requirements of the [] Act through March 31, 2016.
2. [Plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 8, 2013, the alleged onset date.
3. [Plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: myocardial infarction, coronary artery disease, status-post bypass repair surgery, asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, diabetes mellitus, ischemic optic neuropathy, glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
4. [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, Appendix 1.
5. . . . [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work . . . except [he] may lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; he may push and pull as much as he can lift and carry; [he] may sit for 6 hours, stand for 6 hours, and walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour day; he may perform no acts of far acuity or depth perception on his right side; [he] may have occasional exposure to fumes and pulmonary irritants; and he retains the capacity to perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks.
6. [Plaintiff] is unable to perform any past relevant work.
10. Considering [Plaintiff's] age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant No. in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform.
11. [Plaintiff] has not been under a disability, as defined in the [] Act, from May 8, 2013, through the date of this decision.

(Tr. 13-20 (bold font and internal parenthetical citations omitted).)


         Federal 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 administrative proceedings.

         A. Standard of Review

         “[C]ourts 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).

         “In 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 ...

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