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Pegg v. Berryhill

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

August 21, 2017

FELICIA L. PEGG, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          ORDER

          Max O. Cogburn Jr. United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the court on plaintiff's (#9) and defendant's (#13) cross Motions for Summary Judgment. The matter is ripe for review. Having carefully considered each Motion, the court enters the following findings and Order.

         FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

         I. Administrative History

         Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits due to a purported disability on November 6, 2012, alleging an onset of disability on October 19, 2012. Her claims were denied at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. (Tr. 132-174, 178-186). Administrative Law Judge Ann Paschal (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing during which the testimony of the plaintiff and the testimony of vocational expert (“VE”) was taken. On July 1, 2015, the ALJ issued a written determination and found that the plaintiff was not disabled under the Act during the period at issue (October 19, 2012 to July 1, 2015) (Tr. 29). Plaintiff requested a review of this hearing decision on July 14, 2015. (Tr. 56). This request was denied by the Appeals Council on September 26, 2016. (Tr. 1). Therefore, the ALJ's decision dated July 1, 2015 became the final decision of the Commissioner. Having exhausted her administrative remedies, plaintiff commenced this action under Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision. See 42 U.S.C § 405(g). Commissioner filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (#13) in response.

         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, ” Richardson v. Perales, supra. 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 supported by substantial evidence. Hays v. Sullivan, supra. 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. Sequential Evaluation

         A five-step process, known as “sequential” review, is used by the Commissioner in determining whether a Social Security claimant is disabled. The Commissioner evaluates a disability claim ...


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