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McCarty v. Astrue

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 24, 2013

JULIE A. McCARTY, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


CATHY BISSOON, District Judge.


For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 8) will be granted, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 11) will be denied.

Julie A. McCarty ("Plaintiff") has filed this social security appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant") denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. Plaintiff argues that the administrative decision is not supported by substantial evidence in the record and, therefore, must be remanded. More specifically, Plaintiff argues that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") did not hold a full and fair hearing and failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's fibromyalgia, fatigue and insomnia at step-two of his five-step analysis. Defendant argues that the ALJ held a full and fair hearing and properly evaluated all of Plaintiff's ailments, including her fibromyalgia, fatigue and insomnia.

Having carefully reviewed the entire record, the undersigned concludes that the ALJ did not hold a full and fair hearing. Accordingly, this case will be remanded for further administrative proceedings consistent with the Court's Memorandum and Order.


Plaintiff applied for DIB on January 7, 2008. (R. at 24). In her application, Plaintiff claimed an initial onset date of December 31, 2006, and disability due to arthritis and chronic pain. (R. at 133). Plaintiff was found not disabled and her application initially denied on May 16, 2008, and upon reconsideration on February 6, 2009. (R. at 57, 59). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing before an ALJ, which took place in Sanford, North Carolina on May 6, 2010. (R. at 37).

By decision dated August 26, 2010, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for DIB, finding that she was not disabled from December 31, 2006, through August 26, 2010 (the date of the decision), as defined in the Social Security Act. (R. at 30). At the time of her hearing, Plaintiff, who appeared pro se , was a fifty-one year old woman who completed high school and three years of college. (ECF No. 8 at 3). Her past work experience included employment as a secretary and bookkeeper. (R. at 30). In 2006, Plaintiff began to see a series of doctors regarding complaints of severe joint pain due to arthritis, insomnia, dizziness and fibromyalgia. (ECF No. 8 at 3-6).

In his decision, the ALJ observed that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date, and under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii) and 404.1520(c) was suffering from severe impairments of morbid obesity, osteoarthritis, allied disorders and disorders of the back. (R. at 26, 27). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listing of Impairments"). Id . In accordance with 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity as follows:

Claimant is able to lift, carry, push, or pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand or walk at least 2 hours in an 8-hour workday; and sit 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. The claimant can perform the following routine postural activities occasionally: climbing ramps/stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching or crawling; however she should avoid climbing ropes/ladders/scaffolds. In addition, she can perform bilateral manual dexterity for both gross and fine manipulation, with reaching and handling. The claimant has no additional manipulative, visual, commutative or environmental limitations.


The ALJ went on to determine that Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a secretary and bookkeeper.[1] (R. at 30).


Under the Social Security Act, a claimant has the right to a full and fair hearing. Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401-402 (1971); 42 U.S.C § 405(b)(1). At an administrative hearing, the ALJ has a duty to develop a full and fair record, and must secure relevant information regarding the claimant's entitlement to social security benefits. Sims v. Apfel , 530 U.S. 103, 110-111 (2000). This duty is of particular importance, and requires the ALJ to proceed with "a heightened level of care", when the claimant appears pro se .[2] Reefer v. Barnhart , 326 F.3d 376, 380 (3d Cir.2003) (internal quotations omitted). Implicit within this "heightened level of care" is an affirmative ...

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