United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
NIKKI T. THOMAS 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 (#11 and #15). 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 supplemental security income in October 2012,
alleging that she became disabled on May 23, 2012. (Tr. 16).
Her claim was denied at the initial and reconsideration
levels of review. (Tr. 16). Plaintiff filed a timely request
for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). A hearing was held before Theresa R.
Jenkins, an ALJ, on February 5, 2015, at which plaintiff had
a non-attorney representative present. (Tr. 16). In an April
15, 2015 written decision, the ALJ denied the plaintiff's
claim. (Tr. 16-27). Plaintiff requested review of the
ALJ's decision. (Tr. 10-12). The request for review was
denied by the Appeals Council on October 11, 2016 (Tr. 1),
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.
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
supported by substantial evidence. The court finds that the
ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence.
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 under Title XVI pursuant to the following
a. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial
gainful activity will not be found to be
“disabled” regardless of medical findings;
b. An individual who does not have a “severe
impairment” will not be found to be disabled;
c. If an individual is not working and is suffering from a
severe impairment that meets the durational requirement and
that “meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix
1” of Subpart P of Regulations No. 4, a finding of
“disabled” will be made without consideration of
d. If, upon determining residual functional capacity, the
Commissioner finds that an individual is capable of
performing work he or she has done in the past, a finding of