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Crabtree v. Saul

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

August 21, 2019

ANGELA CRABTREE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          L. PATRICK AULD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Angela Crabtree, 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 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 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.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff applied for SSI. (Tr. 219-25.) Upon denial of that application initially (Tr. 110-19, 131-34) and on reconsideration (Tr. 120-30, 141-50), Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 151-53). At the hearing, which Plaintiff, her attorney, and a vocational expert (“VE”) attended (Tr. 42-72), the ALJ determined that, in order to fully develop the record, he needed to consult a medical expert (“ME”) in the field of cardiology, send Plaintiff to a consultative psychological examination to gauge her cognitive symptoms, and convene a supplemental hearing (see Tr. 69-70). Plaintiff, her attorney, a VE, and an ME attended the supplemental hearing. (Tr. 73-109). The ALJ subsequently ruled that Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled under the Act. (Tr. 8-30.) The Appeals Council thereafter denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-7, 217-18, 354-56), 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] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 26, 2013, the application date.
. . .
2. [Plaintiff] has the severe impairments of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and depression.
. . .
3. [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.
. . .
4. . . . [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform work at the light exertional level who can stand and/or walk for up to a total of [four] hours in an [eight-]hour workday, and can sit for up to a total of [six] hours in an [eight]-hour workday. She can perform goal-oriented rather than production oriented work (e.g., the performance of work tasks in allotted time is more important than the pace at which the work tasks are performed). She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally balance and stoop. She can have occasional exposure to moving mechanical parts and high, exposed places (as defined by the [Selected Characteristics of Occupations (“SCO”)]). She can perform work that does not require the operation of a motor vehicle or heavy equipment. She can perform simple, routine work (i.e., requires little or no judgment, requires little specific vocational preparation and can be learned on the job within 30 days, does not provide work skills and has no more than occasional changes in core work duties). She can have frequent contact with the general public, coworkers, and supervisors.
. . .
5. [Plaintiff] has no past relevant work. . . .
9. 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.
. . .
10. [Plaintiff] has not been under a disability, as defined in the [Act], since September 26, 2013, the date the application was filed.

(Tr. 13-29 (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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