United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
YEVETTE K. HUGHES Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
Cogburn Jr. United States District Judge
MATTER is before the court on the parties' opposing
Motions for Summary Judgment (#9 and #11). The matter is ripe
for review. Having carefully considered such motions and
reviewed the pleadings, the court enters the following
findings, conclusions, and Order.
applied for Title XVI Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
benefits in July 2012, alleging that she became disabled on
March 28, 2008. (Tr. 18). Her claim was denied at the initial
and reconsideration levels of review. (Tr. 114, 135).
Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 151-53). A
hearing was held before Charles Howard, an ALJ, on December
18, 2014, at which plaintiff had an attorney representative
present. (Tr. 42). In a January 29, 2015 written decision,
the ALJ denied the plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 15-36).
Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr.
14). The request for review was denied by the Appeals Council
on March 10, 2016 (Tr. 5-9), rendering the ALJ's decision
the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff has exhausted her available
administrative remedies and the case is now ripe for judicial
review under Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
appearing that the ALJ's findings of fact are supported
by substantial evidence, the court adopts and incorporates
such findings herein as if fully set forth. Such findings are
referenced in the substantive discussion which follows.
Standard of Review
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.”
Perales, 402 U.S. at 401 (internal citations
omitted). 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 it was supported by substantial
evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456. The Fourth Circuit
has explained substantial evidence review as follows:
the district court reviews the record to ensure that the
ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial
evidence and that its legal findings are free of error. If
the reviewing court decides that the ALJ's decision is
not supported by substantial evidence, it may affirm, modify,
or reverse the ALJ's ruling with or without remanding the
cause for a rehearing. A necessary predicate to engaging in
substantial evidence review is a record of the basis for the
ALJ's ruling. The record should include a discussion of
which evidence the ALJ found credible and why, and specific
application of the pertinent legal requirements to the record
evidence. If the reviewing court has no way of evaluating the
basis for the ALJ's decision, then the proper course,
except in rare circumstances, is to remand to the agency for
additional investigation or explanation.
Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2013)
(internal citations and quotations omitted).
court has read the transcript of plaintiff's
administrative hearing, closely read the decision of the ALJ,
and reviewed the relevant exhibits contained in the extensive
administrative record. The issue is not whether a court might
have reached a different conclusion had it been presented
with the same testimony and evidentiary materials, but
whether the decision of the administrative law judge is