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Mullinax v. Colvin

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

December 10, 2014

JOEY BRIAN MULLINAX, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

GRAHAM C. MULLEN, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court upon Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Having carefully considered such motions and reviewed the pleadings, the Court enters the following findings, conclusions, and Order.

FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

I. Administrative History

Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits on August 6, 2010. Plaintiff's claim was denied both initially on November 16, 2010, and again on reconsideration on June 17, 2011; thereafter, Plaintiff requested and was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and ALJ Hess heard the case on June 18, 2012. Subsequently, the ALJ issued a decision on July 18, 2012, which was unfavorable to Plaintiff, from which Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council. Plaintiff's request for review was denied and the ALJ's decision affirmed by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). Thereafter, Plaintiff timely filed this action.

II. Factual Background

The Court has incorporated the relevant facts as they pertain to the ALJ's decision in the substantive discussion that follows.

III. 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 is "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 ALJ's 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). However, the Court must also give careful scrutiny to the whole record to ensure that there is a sound foundation for the Secretary's findings, and that her conclusion is rational. Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964).

IV. Substantial Evidence

A. Introduction

The Court has read the transcript of Plaintiff's administrative hearing, closely read the decision of the ALJ, and reviewed the extensive exhibits contained in the administrative record. The issue is not whether the Court might have reached a different conclusion had it been presented with the same testimony and evidentiary materials, but whether the decision of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence. See Hays, 907 F.3d at 1456. The undersigned finds that it is not.

B. Sequential Evaluation

A five-step process, known as "sequential review, " is used by the Commissioner in determining whether a Social Security claimant is disabled. The Commissioner evaluates a disability claim under ...


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