United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MICHAEL T. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED
STATES MAGISTRATE TUDGE
Webster, United States Magistrate Judge
Michael T. Robinson ("Plaintiff), 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 Title II of the
Social Security Act ("the Act"). The Court has
before it the certified administrative record and
cross-motions for judgment. (Docket Entries 8, 10, 12.) 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
applied for DIB on or about January 24, 2008, alleging a
disability onset date of July 2, 2006. (Tr.
138-141) His application was denied initially and
upon reconsideration. (Id. at 80-83, 85-88.)
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Id. at
8-9.) Plaintiff, his attorney, and a vocational expert
("VE") appeared at the hearing on December 11,
2009. (Id. at 10-58.) A decision by the ALJ was
issued on March 24, 2010, upholding the denial of Plaintiffs
application for DIB. (Id. at 64-71.) On July 22,
2011, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for
review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the
ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision
for purposes of judicial review. (Id. at 1-3.)
then appealed to this Court, and by order dated June 18,
2014, the Court remanded the case to the Commissioner to
determine if Plaintiff met Listing 1.04A in accordance with
Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288 (4th Cir. 2013).
(Tr. 708-12.) After remanding this matter to the
Commissioner, the Appeals Council noted that Plaintiff filed
a subsequent application for Supplemental Security Income
Benefits and was found disabled as of June 23, 2010.
(Id. at 715.) Thus, upon remand, the ALJ was to
consider the time period of Plaintiff s alleged onset date of
July 2, 2006, through December 31, 2008, the date last
insured. (Id. at 150, 642.) Plaintiff appeared for a
subsequent hearing on September 14, 2015. (Id. at
664-706.) The same ALJ again rendered a decision finding that
Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 642-657.)
Plaintiff again seeks review of the ALJ's decision from
STANDARD OF 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. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th
Commissioner must make findings of fact and resolve conflicts
in the evidence. I lays, 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. Chafer, 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.
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 Sot 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 ...