United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
MONICA D. STRAITE, Plaintiffs,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendants.
D. WHITNEY CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13). Plaintiff, through
counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable
administrative decision on her application for disability
benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g). This matter is now
ripe for review. For the reasons that follow, the Court
DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, GRANTS
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, and AFFIRMS the
procedural history is not in dispute. Plaintiff, Monica D.
Straite, filed an application for Supplemental Security
Income Benefits on July 11, 2012. (Tr. 153). Her application
was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 11).
Plaintiff timely requested a hearing, which an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) conducted on August 11, 2014.
(Tr. 29). On October 23, 2014, the ALJ issued a finding that
Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 8). Specifically, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since July 11, 2012, and that she had the following
severe impairments: obesity, mood disorder, chronic abdominal
pain from IBS and abdominal adhesions, pelvic floor pain, and
urge incontinence. (Tr. 13). The ALJ reviewed the listed
impairments and found that none of the conditions, standing
alone or in combination, met the requirements for any of the
listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. (Tr. 14).
found Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) would allow her to perform light work,
Except that she should have a sit/stand option allowing her
to change positions at a one hour interval. She can
occasionally climb ladders and can frequently climb stairs,
balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl. She should have no
concentrated exposure to hazards such as moving machinery or
unprotected heights. She is further limited to unskilled work
in a work setting with close proximity to a bathroom.
(Tr. 15). While these restrictions precluded Plaintiff from
resuming her past relevant work, the ALJ found there were
other jobs that existed in the national economy in
significant numbers that Plaintiff could perform, taking into
consideration her age, education, work experience, and RFC.
(Tr. 21). Accordingly, the ALJ ruled that Plaintiff was not
disabled. (Tr. 22).
Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request
for review on November 5, 2015. (Tr. 1). Plaintiff then
timely filed the present action on January 5, 2016, (Doc. No.
1), and the parties' Motions for Summary Judgment are now
ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), limits this
Court's review of the Commissioner's final decision
to (1) whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's decision and (2) whether the Commissioner
applied the correct legal standards. Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). This
Court does not review a final decision of the Commissioner
de novo. Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343,
345 (4th Cir. 1986); King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597,
599 (4th Cir. 1979); Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d
773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). Thus, this Court “‘must
uphold the factual findings of the [ALJ] if they are
supported by substantial evidence and were reached through
application of the correct legal standard.'”
Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir.
2005) (per curiam) (quoting Mastro v. Apfel, 270
F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001).).
Social Security Act provides, “[t]he findings of the
[Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). In Smith v. Heckler, the Fourth Circuit has
defined “substantial evidence” as:
Substantial evidence has been defined as “more than a
scintilla and [it] must do more than create a suspicion of
the existence of a fact to be established. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.”
782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986) (quoting Richardson
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)); see also
Seacrist v. Weinberger, 538 F.2d 1054, 1056-57 (4th Cir.
1976) (“We note that it is the responsibility of the
[Commissioner] and not the courts to reconcile
inconsistencies in the medical evidence . . . .”)
Fourth Circuit has long emphasized that a reviewing court
does not weigh the evidence again, nor substitute its
judgment for that of the Commissioner, assuming the
Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial
evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456; see also Smith
v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d at 345. Indeed, this is true even
if the reviewing court disagrees with the outcome-so long as
there is “substantial evidence” in the record to
support the Commissioner's final decision, the decision
should be affirmed. Lester v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d