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Pethel v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

February 12, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


WILLIAM L. OSTEEN, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Steven Wayne Pethel ("Plaintiff") brought this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), as amended and codified at 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits under Title II of the Act.

Plaintiff subsequently filed a Motion to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security or in the Alternative to Remand for Rehearing, pursuant to Rule 7(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Doc. 11), and the Commissioner has filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 14). Additionally, the administrative record has been certified to this court for review.[1]

For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion will be granted, Plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner and request for remand will be denied, and the case will be dismissed.


Plaintiff protectively filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits on September 4, 2008, alleging a disability beginning on December 7, 2007. The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and on January 20, 2011, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application.[2] (Tr. at 10, 19.) On July 27, 2012, the Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review of the decision, thereby making the ALJ's conclusion the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. (Tr. at 1-3.)

The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: chronic back pain, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, numbness of the left foot, depression, and anxiety disorder. (Id. at 12.) The ALJ then found that Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet or equal a Listing impairment. (Id.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC")[4] to perform light work with following limitations: can only occasionally push/pull with left lower extremity; can occasionally climb stairs but cannot climb ladders; can only occasionally stoop and crouch; can occasionally work around hazards; and can only perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks with occasional interpersonal interaction. (Id. at 15.)

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work but that considering his age, education, work experience and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff was capable of performing, including: health and beauty aids packager, glue machine operator, and laundry folder. (Id. at 17-18.) Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 19.)

After unsuccessfully seeking review by the Appeals Council, Plaintiff filed the present action on September 20, 2012. (Compl. (Doc. 1).)


Federal law authorizes judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's denial of social security benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hines, 453 F.3d at 561. However, the scope of review of such a decision is "extremely limited." Frady v. Harris, 646 F.2d 143, 144 (4th Cir. 1981). "The courts are not to try the case de novo." Oppenheim v. Finch, 495 F.2d 396, 397 (4th Cir. 1974). Instead, "a reviewing 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." Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation omitted).

"Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1993) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971)). "It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is substantial evidence." Hunter, 993 F.2d at 34 (internal quotation marks omitted).

"In reviewing for substantial evidence, the court should not undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the [ALJ]." Mastro, 270 F.3d at 176 (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted). "Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the ALJ." Hancock, 667 F.3d at 472.

In undertaking this limited review, the court notes that "[a] claimant for disability benefits bears the burden of proving a disability." Hall, 658 F.2d at 264. In this context, "disability" means the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be ...

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