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Blue v. Saul

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

August 9, 2019

DERRICK W. BLUE, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          L. Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Derrick W. Blue, 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 1.) Defendant has filed the certified administrative record (Docket Entry 5 (cited herein as “Tr. ”)), and both parties have moved for judgment (Docket Entries 10, 12; see also Docket Entry 11 (Plaintiff's Memorandum); Docket Entry 13 (Defendant's Memorandum)). For the reasons that follow, the Court should enter judgment for Defendant.


         Plaintiff initially applied for DIB on March 10, 2011, and, after denials initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff did not pursue that application further. (See Tr. 107.) Plaintiff filed a second application for DIB on December 12, 2011, and, after denials at the initial and reconsideration stages of review (see id.), an ALJ issued a decision on February 21, 2014, finding Plaintiff “not disabled” under the Act (Tr. 79-95).[2]

         On February 4, 2015, Plaintiff filed the instant application for DIB, alleging a disability onset date of May 21, 2010. (Tr. 234-35.) Upon denial of that application initially (Tr. 106-16, 134-37) and on reconsideration (Tr. 117-28, 139-46), Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 147-48).[3] Plaintiff, his attorney, and a vocational expert (“VE”) attended the hearing. (Tr. 46-78.) The ALJ subsequently ruled that Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled under the Act. (Tr. 5-17). The Appeals Council thereafter denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-4, 38-40), 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] last met the insured status requirements of the . . . Act on December 31, 2014.
2. [Plaintiff] did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his amended alleged onset date of February 22, 2014 through his date last insured of December 31, 2014.
3. Through the date last insured, [Plaintiff] had the following severe impairment: ischemic heart disease.
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 light work . . . except he can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. [Plaintiff] can sit, stand, and walk six hours in an eight-hour workday. He can push and pull as much as he can lift and carry. [Plaintiff] can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [Plaintiff] can never have exposure to unprotected heights, occasional exposure to moving mechanical parts, occasional exposure to vibration, and moderate exposure to noise.
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 February 22, 2014, the amended alleged onset date, through December 31, 2014, the date last insured.

(Tr. 10-17 (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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