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Dalton v. Berryhill

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

October 25, 2017

ANGELA D. DALTON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          AMENDED ORDER

          MAX O. COGBURN JR. UNITED STATES DISTRUCT 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 for Summary Judgment, the court enters the following findings and Order.

         FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

         I. Administrative History

         In January 2014, Plaintiff filed applications for a Period of Disability, Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), alleging disability since September 28, 2011, due to bipolar disorder, PTSD, severe anxiety, borderline agoraphobia, depression, left leg reattachment pain, left leg shorter than right, bilateral thoracic outlet syndrome, and fibromyalgia. (Tr. 19, 225). The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 19). A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Charles R. Howard (“the ALJ”) on November 4, 2015 (Tr. 19, 39-73), and on January 21, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying the claims. (Tr. 19-32). On November 17, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review (Tr. 1-4), thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff timely commenced the instant action for judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Factual Background

         The court adopts and incorporates the ALJ's factual 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. For the reasons outlined below, the court finds that the ALJ's decision was based on substantial evidence.

         B. ...


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