United States District Court, Western District of North Carolina, Asheville Division
CYNTHIA E. PRESSLEY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Graham C. Mullen United States District Judge
THIS MATTER is before the court upon Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 14), the Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 18), and Plaintiff’s Response (Doc. No. 21). Having carefully considered the parties’ filings and the administrative record, the Court enters the following findings, conclusions, and order.
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
I. Administrative History
Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Social Security Income, alleging an onset date of April 1, 2004. (Administrative Transcript at 100-11, 924-26, 932-40). Plaintiff’s claims were denied both initially and on reconsideration (Tr. at 54-56, 927, 941-42); thereafter, hearings were held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on April 24, 2009 and June 18, 2009, (Tr. at 2341-55, 2356-78). On September 23, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff’s claims for benefits. (Tr. at 312-26). In September 2010, Plaintiff filed a request for review with the Appeals Council, amending her alleged onset date to March 26, 2008. (Tr. at 332-34). On March 11, 2001, the Appeals Council issued an order remanding the case to the same ALJ. (Tr. at 330-31). On December 16, 2011, after conducting another hearing, (Tr. at 2379-409), the ALJ issued a second decision denying Plaintiff’s claim for benefits, (Tr. at 22-40). Plaintiff’s subsequent request for review was denied by the Appeals Council, (Tr. at 15-18), making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Thereafter, Plaintiff timely filed this action.
II. Legal Standard
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).
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 pursuant to the following five-step analysis:
(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. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1;
(4) Whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the requirements ...