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Ballard v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

February 27, 2015

NOELLE EVANS BALLARD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

Page 471

For NOELLE EVANS BALLARD, Plaintiff: PAMELA HENRY-MAYS, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES HARRY J. BINDER AND CHARLES E. BINDER, P.C., NEW YORK, NY.

For CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Social Security Administration, Defendant: HEATHER T. FRITTS, LEAD ATTORNEY, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, OFFICE OF THE GENERAL COUNSEL, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Interested Party, Pro se.

Page 472

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Thomas D. Schroeder, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Noelle Ballard brought this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (" SSA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claims for disability insurance benefits (" DIB" ) and supplemental security income (" SSI" ). The parties have filed cross motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Docs. 8, 10.) For the reasons set forth below, Ms. Ballard's motion will be denied, the Commissioner's motion will be granted, and the case will be dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

Ms. Ballard filed concurrent applications for DIB on May 25, 2010, and SSI on May 27, 2010, alleging disability as of February 15, 2010.[1] (Tr. at 40, 221-31.)[2] Her application was initially denied and then again rejected upon reconsideration. (Id. at 93-168.) On May 2, 2011, Ms. Ballard requested a de novo hearing on her applications before an administrative law judge (" ALJ" ). (Id. at 183-84.) Represented by counsel, Ms. Ballard appeared at the hearing on May 1, 2012, at which both she and an impartial vocational expert testified. (Id. at 59-91.) On August 24, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Ballard not disabled. (Id. at 37-58.) Ms. Ballard appealed to the Appeals Council. (Id. at 35-36.) On October 25, 2013, the Appeals Council denied review, rendering the ALJ's August 24, 2012 decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. (Id. at 5-11.)

Ms. Ballard filed her complaint with this court on February 6, 2014, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. (Doc. 1) Ms. Ballard filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. 8), to which the Commissioner has not responded. The Commissioner, however, filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. 10), with no response from Ms. Ballard. The time for further briefing on the cross motions has expired, and the motions are now ripe for decision.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal law " authorizes judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's denial of social security benefits." Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 561 (4th Cir. 2006). However, " the scope of . . . review of [such an administrative] 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). Rather, " [w]hen examining an

Page 473

SSA disability determination, a reviewing court is required to uphold the determination when an ALJ has applied correct legal standards and the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence." Bird v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012).

" Substantial evidence is 'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)). " [I]t consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Id. (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). " 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 v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Craig, 76 F.3d at 589) (internal brackets omitted). " It is not [the court's] place either to reweigh the evidence or to substitute [its] judgment for that of the [ALJ] if that decision was supported by substantial evidence." Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992). " Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the ALJ." Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Craig, 76 F.3d at 589) (internal brackets omitted). Thus, the issue before this court " is not whether [the claimant] is disabled, but whether the ALJ's finding that [the claimant] is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and was reached based upon a correct application of the relevant law." Craig, 76 F.3d at 589.

In administrative proceedings, the claimant " of course, bears the burden of proving that [s]he is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act." English v. Shalala, 10 F.3d 1080, 1082 (4th Cir. 1993). The SSA defines " disability" as 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 expected to last for a ...


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