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Freeman v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

May 10, 2017

MATTHEW G. FREEMAN Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          ORDER

          MAX O. COGBURN JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the court on the parties' opposing Motions for Summary Judgment (#11 and #13). The matter is ripe for review. 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 applied for Title XVI Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in in May 2013, alleging that he became disabled on August 1, 2011. (Tr. 18). His claim was denied at the initial and reconsideration levels of review. (Tr. 18, 90). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 95). A hearing was held before Sherman Schwarzberg, an ALJ, on December 3, 2014, at which plaintiff had an attorney representative present. (Tr. 18). In a February 5, 2015 written decision, the ALJ denied the plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 18-29). Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 14). The request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on June 22, 2016 (Tr. 1-6), rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff has exhausted his 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).

         II. Factual Background

         It 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.

         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.” 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).

         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 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 supported by substantial evidence. The court finds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence.

         B. ...


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