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Jones v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

April 5, 2019

VALERIE DENE JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          L. Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Valerie Dene Jones, brought this pro se 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”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). (Docket Entry 2.) Defendant has filed the certified administrative record (Docket Entry 9 (cited herein as “Tr. ”)), and both parties have moved for judgment (Docket Entries 12, 13; see also Docket Entry 14 (Defendant's Memorandum)). For the reasons that follow, the Court should enter judgment for Defendant.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 93-100.) Upon denial of those applications initially (Tr. 28-38, 51-54) and on reconsideration (Tr. 39-50, 60-62), [1] Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 63-64). Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, and a vocational expert (“VE”) attended the hearing. (Tr. 900-17.) The ALJ subsequently ruled that Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled under the Act. (Tr. 582-94.) The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review, and remanded the case for further consideration of new evidence and a consultative examiner's opinion. (Tr. 595-99, 600.)

         Plaintiff, her attorney, and a VE attended a second hearing before a different ALJ (Tr. 875-99), and that ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Act (Tr. 13-27). The Appeals Council thereafter denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 9-12, 872-74), 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 June 30, 2014.
2. [Plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 31, 2010, the alleged onset date.
3. [Plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: [c]hronic back and neck strain; left knee pain; essential hypertension; obesity and anxiety.
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 [she] can stand/walk a total of six hours and sit a total of six hours in an 8-hour workday. [Plaintiff] can occasionally climb, balance, kneel, crouch and crouch [sic]. [Plaintiff] is further limited to simple routine 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 December 31, 2010, through the date of this decision.

(Tr. 18-27 (bold font and internal parenthetical citations omitted).)

         II. DISCUSSION

         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). ...


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