United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED
STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
PATRICK AULD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Robin Spence Harris, brought this action pursuant to the
Social Security Act (the “Act”) to obtain
judicial review of a final decision of Defendant, the
Commissioner of Social Security, denying Plaintiff's
claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).
(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 11, 13; see also Docket Entry 12
(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 a disability onset date of December
24, 2012. (Tr. 205-11.) Upon denial of that application
initially (Tr. 96-109, 133-41) and on reconsideration (Tr.
110-24, 143-50), Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 151-52).
Plaintiff, her attorney, and a vocational expert
(“VE”) attended the hearing. (Tr. 32-81.) The ALJ
subsequently determined that Plaintiff did not qualify as
disabled under the Act. (Tr. 11-26.) The Appeals Council
thereafter denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr.
1-5, 9-10, 191-92, 391-92), thereby making the ALJ's
ruling the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of
rendering that decision, the ALJ made the following findings:
1. [Plaintiff] meets the insured status requirements of the .
. . Act through June 30, 2017.
2. [Plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since December 24, 2012, the alleged onset date.
3. [Plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: bipolar
disorder, anxiety disorder, and obesity.
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,
5. . . . [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to
perform light work . . . except that [Plaintiff] must have
the option to alternate between a [sic] sitting and standing,
in that for every 45 minutes of standing [Plaintiff] requires
15 minutes of sitting. [Plaintiff] can occasionally climb
ramps and stairs, but is unable to climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. [Plaintiff] can have no more than occasionally
[sic] exposure to extreme heat, cold, or humidity.
[Plaintiff] cannot work around workplace hazards such as
unprotected heights, moving machinery, or bodies of water.
[Plaintiff] can perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks,
involving no more than simple, short instructions, simple
work-related decisions, few work-related changes, and is
unable to perform work at a fixed production rate or pace.
[Plaintiff] is unable to interact with the general public,
but can occasionally interact with coworkers and supervisors.
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 24, 2012, through the date of
(Tr. 16-26 (internal parenthetical citations omitted).)
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). 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, “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).
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 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 Social Security 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
[Social Security 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
[(‘SSA')] has . . . promulgated . . . detailed
regulations incorporating longstanding medical-vocational
evaluation policies that take into account a claimant's
age, education, and work ...