United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED
STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
WEBSTER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Emma Farrington, on behalf of the deceased claimant, Howard
Farrington ("Farrington"), seeks review of a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his
claims for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits ("DIB") under Tide II of the Social
Security Act ("the Act"). The Court has before it the
certified administrative record and cross-motions for
judgment. (Docket Entries 6, 8, 10.) For reasons discussed
below, it is recommended that Plaintiffs motion for judgment
on the pleadings be denied, Defendant's motion for
judgment on the pleadings be granted, and that the
Commissioner's decision be affirmed.
applied for DIB on or about February 14, 2011, alleging a
disability onset date of September 30, 2008. (Tr.
176-79.) His application was denied initially and
upon reconsideration. (Tr. 118-121, 125-27.) Thereafter,
Farrington requested a hearing de novo before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 77-78.)
Farrington, his attorney, and a vocational expert
("VE") appeared at the hearing on September 16,
2013. (Tr. 46-69.) A decision by the ALJ was issued on
December 11, 2013, upholding the denial of Farrington's
application for DIB. (Tr. 33-42.) Farrington thereafter
retained another attorney who appealed the ALJ's decision
to the Appeals Council on February 4, 2014. (Tr. 23-25.)
Farrington died on February 28, 2014. On May 12, 2015, the
Appeals Council denied Farrington's request for review of
the decision. (Tr. 18-20.) The Appeals Council thereafter
allowed additional information to be submitted by
Farrington's counsel. (Tr. 13-14.) On August 6, 2015,
after setting aside its earlier denial, the Appeals Council
again denied Farrington's request for review of the
ALJ's decision, thereby making the ALJ's
determination the Commissioner's final decision for
purposes of judicial review. (Tr. 1-5.) Farrington's
widow, Emma Farrington (proceeding as "Plaintiff in this
matter), was named a substitute party and subsequently filed
the instant Complaint with this Court. (Docket Entry 2.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Commissioner held that Farrington 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 Lams v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)).
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 Cir.
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)."
Cmig, 76 F.3d at 589 (quoting Walker v.
Bowen, 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
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 so,
the claimant is disabled and the inquiry is halted.
(4) Whether the impairment prevents the claimant from
performing past relevant work. If not, the claimant is not
disabled and the inquiry is halted.
(5) Whether the claimant is able to perform any other work
considering both his residual functional
capacity ("RFC") and his vocational
abilities. If ...