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Willis v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

March 20, 2014

KRYSTAL M. WILLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

GRAHAM MULLEN, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court upon Plaintiff Krystal M. Willis' ("Plaintiff's") Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 11) filed on June 3, 2013, and Defendant Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn W. Colvin's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 13) filed on September 3, 2013. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on her application for disability benefits.

Having reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative record, and applicable authority, for the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED and, accordingly, the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision is AFFIRMED.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset date of February 15, 2003. (Doc. No. 7-21 at 5.) The claim was initially denied on July 7, 2011, and again upon reconsideration on September 1, 2011. Subsequently, on October 25, 2011, Plaintiff timely filed a request for an administrative hearing and ALJ Marshall D. Riley held a video hearing on February 3, 2012.

On February 29, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time from her alleged onset date through her date last insured ("DLI") of March 31, 2006. (Doc. No. 7-21.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 26, 2012, rendering the ALJ's decision of February 29, 2012 the final decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 7-3 at 1-5.) The Parties' motions are now ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), limits this Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner to whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Thus, this Court "must uphold the factual findings of the ALJ if they are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard.'" Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (quoting Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001)). This Court does not review a final decision of the Commissioner de novo. Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986); King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir. 1979); Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).

As the Social Security Act provides, "[t]he findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). In Smith v. Heckler, the Fourth Circuit defined "substantial evidence" thus:

Substantial evidence has been defined as being more than a scintilla and do[ing] more than creat[ing] a suspicion of the existence of a fact to be established. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.

782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). The Fourth Circuit has long emphasized that it is not for a reviewing court to weigh the evidence again, nor to substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, assuming the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456; see also Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986). Indeed, this is true even if the reviewing court disagrees with the outcome-so long as there is "substantial evidence" in the record to support the Commissioner's final decision. Lester v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 838, 841 (4th Cir. 1982).

III. DISCUSSION

The question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was "disabled, " as defined for Social Security purposes between February 15, 2003 through her date last insured of March 31, 2006.[1] On February 29, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not "disabled" at any time between February 15, 2003 and the date of last insured. (Doc. No. 7-21.) The Social Security Administration has established a five-step ...


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