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Straite v. Berryhill

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

September 13, 2017

MONICA D. STRAITE, Plaintiffs,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendants.

          ORDER

          FRANK D. WHITNEY CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS 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 Commissioner's decision.

         II. BACKGROUND

         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).

         The ALJ 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).

         The 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).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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).).

         As the 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 . . . .”)

         The 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 838, ...


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