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Barnes v. Berryhill

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

September 20, 2017

ROBERT W. BARNES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          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). This case has been assigned to the undersigned United States District Judge. After careful consideration of the written arguments, the administrative record, and applicable authority, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Plaintiff's Motion For Summary Judgment; DENIES Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment; and REMANDS the Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Robert W. Barnes (“Plaintiff”), through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on his application for disability benefits. (Doc. No. 1). On August 2, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for a supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1383, alleging an inability to work due to a disabling condition beginning July 1, 2007. (Transcript of the Record of Proceedings (“Tr.”) 21, 218-224). The Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denied Plaintiff's application initially on January 9, 2012, and again after reconsideration on May 10, 2013. (Tr. 21, 156-160, 164-168). In its “Notice of Reconsideration, ” the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) included the following explanation of its decision:

The medical evidence shows that your condition is not severe enough to be considered disabling.
In order to evaluate the claim, specific medical evidence was needed. However, we were unable to obtain this evidence because the examination we scheduled was not completed.
It has been decided, therefore, that you are not disabled according to the Social Security Act.

(Tr. 164).

         Plaintiff filed a timely written request for a hearing on May 14, 2013. (Tr. 21, 169-171). On November 7, 2014, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Wendell M. Sims (“ALJ”). (Tr. 21, 42-81). In addition, Robert E. Brabham, Jr., a vocational expert (“VE”), and Daniel A. Bridgman, Plaintiff's attorney, appeared at the hearing. Id.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 28, 2015, denying Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 21-34). On or about February 16, 2015, Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on December 6, 2015. (Tr. 9-11, 15). The January 28, 2015 ALJ decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's review request. (Tr. 9).

         Plaintiff's “Complaint” seeking a reversal of the ALJ's determination was filed in this Court on January 28, 2016. (Doc. No. 1). Plaintiff's Motion For Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) and “Plaintiff's Memorandum In Support Of Motion For Summary Judgment” (Doc. No. 12) were filed June 9, 2016; and Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13) and “Memorandum In Support Of Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment” (Doc. No. 14) were filed August 9, 2016.

         The pending motions are now ripe for disposition.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3), limits this Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner to: (1) whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision; and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).

         The Fourth Circuit has made clear that it is not for a reviewing court to re-weigh the evidence or to substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner - so long as that decision is supported by substantial evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); see also, Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986); Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012). “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.'” Smith v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986) (quoting Perales, 402 U.S. at 401).

         Ultimately, it is the duty of the Commissioner, not the courts, to make findings of fact and to resolve conflicts in the evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456; King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir. 1979) (“This court does not find facts or try the case de novo when reviewing disability determinations.”); 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 inconsistences in the medical evidence, and that it is the claimant who bears the risk of nonpersuasion.”). Indeed, so long as the Commissioner's decision is ...


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