United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
ROBERT W. AYERS, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED
STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Webstee United States Magistrate Judge
Robert W. Ayers, brought this action pursuant to Section
205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), as
amended (42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)), to obtain review of
a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security denying his claims for a Period of
Disability ("POD") and Disability Insurance
Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Act. The
Court has before it the certified administrative record and
cross-motions for judgment.
filed an application for a POD and DIB in May of 2012
alleging a disability onset date of February 1, 2011. (Tr.
14, 231-232.) The application was denied initially and
again upon reconsideration. (Id. at 120-28, 130-37.)
Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge ("ALJ") (id. at 138) and at the
May 1, 2014 hearing were Plaintiff, his attorney, and a
vocational expert ("VE"). (Id. at 42-75.)
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under the
Act. (Id. at 11-19.) On October 1, 2015, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, making the
ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for
purposes of review. (Id. at 1-4.)
was 47 years old on the alleged disability onset date.
(Id. at 17.) He had a limited education and was able
to communicate in English. (Id.)
STANDARD FOR REVIEW
Commissioner held that Plaintiff was not under a disability
within the meaning of the Act. Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
the scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision is specific and narrow. Smith v. Schweiker,
795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986). This Court's review of
that decision is limited to determining whether there is
substantial evidence in the record to support the
Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992);
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
1990). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Hunter, 993 F.2d at 34 (citing
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). It
"consists of more than a mere scintilla" "but
may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Id.
(quoting Laws v. Celebresge, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th
Commissioner must make findings of fact and resolve conflicts
in the evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (citing
King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Or. 1979)).
The Court does not conduct a de novo review of the evidence
nor of the Commissioner's findings. Schweiker,
795 F.2d at 345. In reviewing for substantial evidence, the
Court does not undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, to
make credibility determinations, or to substitute its
judgment for that of the Commissioner. Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (citing
Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456). "Where conflicting
evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a
claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision
falls on the [Commissioner] (or the [Commissioner's]
designate, the ALJ)." Craig, 76 F.3d at 589
(quoting Walker v. Bomn, 834 F.2d 635, 640 (7th Cir.
1987)). The denial of benefits will be reversed only if no
reasonable mind could accept the record as adequate to
support the determination. See Richardson, 402 U.S.
at 401. The issue before the Court, therefore, is not whether
Plaintiff is disabled, but whether the Commissioner's
finding that Plaintiff is not disabled is supported by
substantial evidence and was reached based upon a correct
application of the relevant law. See id.; Coffman v.
Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987).
THE ALJ'S DISCUSSION
Social Security Regulations define "disability" for
the purpose of obtaining disability benefits as the
"inability to do 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
continuous period of not less than 12 months." 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1505(a); see also 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(a). To meet this definition, a claimant must have a
severe impairment which makes it impossible to do previous
work or any other substantial gainful activity that exists in
the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a); see
also 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
The Five-Step Sequential Analysis
Commissioner follows a five-step sequential analysis to
ascertain whether the claimant is disabled, which is set
forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. See Albright v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2
(4th Cir. 1999). The ALJ must determine:
(1) Whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity (i.e., whether the claimant is working). If
so, the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends.
(2) Whether the claimant has a severe impairment. If not,
then the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends.
(3) Whether the impairment meets or equals to medical
criteria of 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, which
sets forth a list of impairments that warrant a finding of
disability without considering vocational criteria. If ...