United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
For Timothy Everett, Plaintiff: George C. Piemonte, The Piemonte Law Firm, PC, Charlotte, NC.
For Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant: Christian Michael Vainieri, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, Baltimore, MD.
Frank D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge.
THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Timothy Everett's (" Plaintiff's") Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 11), and Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn W. Colvin's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 13). Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on his 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 the Administrative Law Judge's (" ALJ's") decision is AFFIRMED.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on August 25, 2009, for an alleged disability beginning on August 21, 2009. (Tr. at 20). Plaintiff's application was denied both initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 94-95). An ALJ held a hearing, attended by both Plaintiff and his counsel, on January 21, 2011, and determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act on March 28, 2011. (Tr. 65-105). Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's decision, which the Appeals Council remanded back to the ALJ for further review. (Tr. 110-114). Plaintiff and his counsel appeared at the second hearing on April 24, 2013, before the ALJ. (Tr. 38-64). The ALJ again ruled Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act on June 13, 2013. (Tr. 20-31). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 19, 2013, thereby rendering the ALJ's September 21, 2012 decision final. (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff filed this civil action seeking a review of the Commissioner's final decision. (Doc. No. 1).
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, 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986), quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971), the Fourth Circuit defined " substantial evidence" as such:
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.
See also Seacrist v. Weinberger, 538 F.2d 1054, 1056-57 (4th Cir. 1976) (" We note that it is the responsibility of the [Commissioner] and not the courts to reconcile inconsistencies in the medical evidence").
The Fourth Circuit has long emphasized that a reviewing court does not weigh the evidence again, nor 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 at 345. 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). In reviewing for substantial evidence, a court may not re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its own judgment for that of the ...