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Doorey v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

April 9, 2019

DANA DOOREY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          L. Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Dana Doorey, 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 6 (cited herein as “Tr. ”)), and both parties have moved for judgment (Docket Entries 8, 10; see also Docket Entry 9 (Plaintiff's Memorandum); Docket Entry 11 (Defendant's Memorandum); Docket Entry 12 (Plaintiff's Reply). For the reasons that follow, the Court should remand this matter for further administrative proceedings.


         Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging a disability onset date of January 15, 2014. (Tr. 238-41.) Upon denial of that application initially (Tr. 77-91, 120-28) and on reconsideration (Tr. 92-116, 130-37), Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 138-39). Plaintiff, her attorney, and a vocational expert (“VE”) attended the hearing. (Tr. 48-76.) The ALJ subsequently ruled that Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled under the Act. (Tr. 12-32). The Appeals Council thereafter denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6, 235-37), thereby making the ALJ's ruling the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review.

         In rendering that decision, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. [Plaintiff] meets the insured status requirements of the . . . Act through December 31, 2019.
2. [Plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 15, 2014.
3. [Plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: somatoform disorder, anxiety disorder, panic disorder, major depressive disorder, personality disorder with borderline and narcissistic features, fibromyalgia, right knee degenerative joint disease, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), obstructive sleep apnea, reactive airway disease, and perceived electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
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 occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but should never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She must avoid hazards including heights and large moving machinery and she must avoid exposure to fumes and odors. She is capable of simple, routine tasks but no fast-paced, high volume workloads. She can perform tasks that can be performed independently rather than in a group. She is capable of occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors, but should have no interaction with the general public. In addition, she would need the option to sit every 30 minutes for about 1 to 2 minutes but could continue working while seated.
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 January 15, 2014, through the date of this decision.

(Tr. 17-31 (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 . . . 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, “a reviewing court must uphold the factual findings of the ALJ [underlying the denial of benefits] 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, 390 (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) (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted). “If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict ...

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