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James v. Colvin

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

September 19, 2014

KATHY J. JAMES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant.

ORDER

GRAHAM C. MULLEN, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court upon Plaintiff Kathy J. James's ("Plaintiff") Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. No. 10) and Memorandum in Support (Doc. No. 11), and Defendant Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn W. Colvin's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. No. 12). Plaintiff, through counsel, 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 is DENIED, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED, and the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision is AFFIRMED.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed an application for period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income on September 18, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of November 15, 2007. Tr. 105. The Commissioner initially denied those claims on January 18, 2010, and again on reconsideration on October 18, 2010. Tr. 58-66. Subsequently, on December 20, 2010, Plaintiff timely filed a written request for an administrative hearing and Administrative Law Judge Clinton C. Hicks heard the case on December 14, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Tr. 67-68; 23-45.

On February 3, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 5-22. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Tr. 1-3. Plaintiff timely filed this action on June 21, 2013 (Doc. No. 1), and 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). Substantial evidence is "evidence which a reasoning mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion" and "more than a mere scintilla..., but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Id. at 1456; Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987).

The very language of section 405(g) precludes the Court from reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner de novo; it is the responsibility of the ALJ and not the Courts to make findings of fact and to resolve conflicts of evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986); Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (citing King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir. 1979)). The Court cannot substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, even if the Court would have decided differently, so long as the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456; Lester v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 838, 841 (4th Cir. 1982); Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966).

III. DISCUSSION[1]

The Social Security Administration uses the Five Step Sequential Evaluation Process ("SEP") for determining disability claims. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. These 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 impairments that is severe;
(3) Whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals one of the Listings in 20 C.F.R. ...

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