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Cogar v. Colvin

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

April 30, 2014

Janet Lee Cogar, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of social security Defendant.

ORDER

FRANK D. WHITNEY, Chief District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Janet Lee Cogar's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11), and Defendant Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn W. Colvin's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 12). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED, and the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision is AFFIRMED.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Cogar seeks judicial review of an unfavorable decision on her application for disability benefits. (Doc. No. 11).

On November 19, 2009, Cogar filed an application for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et. seq., alleging an inability to work due to a disabling condition beginning December 1, 2006. (Tr. 219). When the Commissioner denied Cogar's application, Cogar subsequently requested a hearing which was held on January 9, 2012. Id. at 56-80.

On March 19, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a decision finding Cogar not disabled. Id. at 140-54. Specifically, the ALJ found that Cogar suffered from arthritis, status post left shoulder fracture, depression, and borderline intellectual functioning. Id. at 146. The impairments were severe within the meaning of the regulations, but did not meet or equal any listing in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.1. Id. at 147. The ALJ then found that Cogar retained the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") to perform light work. Id. at 149. Specifically, the ALJ found Cogar could:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except that the claimant must be allowed to alternate positions from sitting to standing; the claimant can only occasionally climb, balance, stop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; the claimant cannot push or pull with her right leg; the claimant cannot push, pull, or reach overhead with her left arm; the claimant is limited to unskilled, simple, routine, repetitive work that deals with things; and the claimant must work in a nonproduction setting with limited interaction with others.

Id. Based upon this RFC and the testimony of a Vocational Expert ("VE"), the ALJ concluded that Cogar could not perform her past relevant work as a personal care worker. Id. at 153. However, given Cogar's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that 830 laundry folding positions in North Carolina and 35, 000 laundry folding positions nationwide constituted significant numbers of jobs Cogar could perform and found Cogar not disabled during the relevant period. Id. at 153-54.

On May 14, 2012, Cogar filed a request for review by the Appeals Council. Id. at 18. By notice dated June 10, 2013, the Appeals Council declined Cogar's request for review. Id. at 1-5. Cogar appealed to this Court June 21, 2013. (Doc. No. 1).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3), limits this Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner to: (1) whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992) (per curiam). The District 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). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence, but may be somewhat less than a preponderance. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)); Rhyne v. Astrue, 3:09-CV-412-FDW-DSC, 2011 WL 1239800, at *2 (W.D. N.C. March 30, 2011).

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. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456; see also Smith, 795 F.2d at 345; and Blalock, 483 F.2d at 775. 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 final decision below. Lester v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 838, 841 (4th Cir. 1982).

III. DISCUSSION

The question before the ALJ was whether Cogar was "disabled, " as defined for Social Security purposes, on December 1, 2006.[1] The Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is disabled. C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The five steps are:

(1) Whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity;
(2) Whether the claimant has a severe medically determinable impairment, or a combination of ...

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