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Duvall v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

April 29, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


WILLIAM L. OSTEEN, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Tonya Tolbert Duvall ("Plaintiff") brought this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), codified as amended at 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Act.

Plaintiff subsequently filed a Motion for Judgment Reversing or Modifying the Decision of the Commissioner or Remanding the Cause for a Rehearing (Doc. 11), and the Commissioner has filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 17). Additionally, the administrative record has been certified to this court for review.[2]

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 filed an application for disability insurance benefits on December 18, 2008, alleging a disability beginning on January 17, 2006. (Tr. at 11.) The claim was denied initially on May 5, 2009, and upon reconsideration on August 7, 2009. (Id.) A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on January 6, 2011, and in a decision dated March 9, 2011, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application. (Id. at 11-20.)

In making this determination, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairment: reactive airway disease. (Id. at 13.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet or equal a listing impairment. (Id. at 15.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work and is limited to moderate exposure to respiratory irritants such as fumes, odors, gases, and dirt. (Id.)

The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a cashier II and as a companion. (Id. at 18.) In addition to the ability to perform past relevant work, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC, there were also other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff was able to perform, including vault worker, mail carrier (rural), chiropractor assistant, recreation facility attendant, information clerk, and router, delivery marker. (Id. at 19.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled under the framework of Medical-Vocational Rule 203.30. (Id. at 19-20.)

On August 30, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision a final decision. (Id. at 1-3.) Plaintiff filed the present action on October 26, 2012.


Federal law authorizes judicial review of Commissioner's denial of social security benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 561 (4th Cir. 2006). 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 v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264 (4th Cir. 1981). 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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