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Reinhardt v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division

April 17, 2015

MELODY DAWN REINHARDT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

Max O. Cogburn, Jr. J.

THIS MATTER is before the court upon plaintiffs 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. Plaintiff’s claim was denied both initially and on reconsideration; thereafter, plaintiff requested and was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). After conducting a hearing, the ALJ issued a decision 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

It appearing that the ALJ’s recitations of fact are supported are accurate, the undersigned adopts and incorporates such findings herein as if fully set forth. Such findings are referenced in the substantive discussion which follows. The court does not, however, adopt the ALJ’s ultimate conclusions based on such facts.

III. Standard of Review

The only issues on review are whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial evidence. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Review by a federal court is not de novo, Smith v. Schwieker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986); rather, inquiry is limited to whether there was “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, ” Richardson v. Perales, supra. Even if the undersigned were to find that a preponderance of the evidence weighed against the Commissioner’s decision, the Commissioner’s decision would have to be affirmed if supported by substantial evidence. Hays v. Sullivan, supra.

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 a court might have reached a different conclusion had he been presented with the same testimony and evidentiary materials, but whether the decision of the administrative law judge is supported by substantial evidence. 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 Title II pursuant to the following five-step analysis:

a. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be “disabled” ...

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