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Dawling v. Saul

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

November 19, 2019

SCOTT M. DAWLING, 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, Scott M. Dawling, brought this action pro se 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 claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). (Docket Entry 2.) Defendant has filed the certified administrative record (Docket Entry 14 (cited herein as “Tr. ”)), and both parties have moved for judgment (Docket Entries 16, 17; see also Docket Entry 18 (Defendant's Memorandum), Docket Entry 20 (Plaintiff's Reply)). For the reasons that follow, the Court should enter judgment for Defendant.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of July 20, 2011. (Tr. 273-84.) Upon denial of those applications initially (Tr. 81-104, 156-60) and on reconsideration (Tr. 105-32, 161-70, 174-82), Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 183-84). Plaintiff, his attorney, and a vocational expert (“VE”) attended the hearing (Tr. 55-80), at which Plaintiff amended his disability onset date to July 21, 2015, the day after an ALJ's decision denying Plaintiff's prior claims for DIB and SSI (see Tr. 41, 62). The ALJ subsequently ruled that Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled under the Act. (Tr. 38-50). The Appeals Council thereafter denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-7, 272), 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, 2016.
2. [Plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 21, 2015[, ] the amended alleged onset date.
3. [Plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: history of ankle fractures and inflammatory arthritis. . . .
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 medium work . . . . He can frequently perform crouching[.] . . .
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 numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform. . . .
11. [Plaintiff] has not been under a disability, as defined in the . . . Act, from July 21, 2015, through the date of this decision.

(Tr. 43-49 (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 . . . 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.

         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 ...


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