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Shrsher v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

October 31, 2017

NESRIN SHRSHER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          L. Patrick Auld, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Nesrin Shrsher, brought this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (the “Act”) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, denying Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (Docket Entry 2.) Defendant has filed the certified administrative record (Docket Entry 7 (cited herein as “Tr. ”)), and both parties have moved for judgment (Docket Entries 10, 12; see also Docket Entry 11 (Plaintiff's Brief); Docket Entry 13 (Defendant's Memorandum)). For the reasons that follow, the Court should enter judgment for Defendant.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging an onset date of May 20, 2012. (Tr. 182-85.) Upon denial of that application initially (Tr. 64, 82-86) and on reconsideration (Tr. 65-81, 89-92), Plaintiff requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 95-97). Plaintiff, her attorney, and a vocational expert (“VE”) attended the hearing. (Tr. 31-63.) The ALJ subsequently ruled that Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled under the Act. (Tr. 10-25.) The Appeals Council thereafter denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-5, 8-9, 282-84), thereby making the ALJ's ruling the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review.

         In rendering that disability determination, the ALJ made the following findings later adopted by the Commissioner:

1. [Plaintiff] meets the insured status requirements of the [] Act through December 31, 2016.
2. [Plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 20, 2012, the alleged onset date.
. . .
3. [Plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: seizure disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, migraine headaches, degenerative disc disease, and obesity.
. . .
4. [Plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
. . .
5. . . . [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work . . . except [she] cannot be exposed to workplace hazards. [Plaintiff] can understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine, repetitive tasks, consistent with reasoning level one or two in the [D]ictionary of [O]ccupational [T]itles (“DOT”), meaning that she can apply common sense understanding to carry out simple, one-to-two step instructions and deal with standardized situations with occasional or no variables in or from the situations encountered on the job. [Plaintiff] can have no interaction with the general public but she can have occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors. She can respond to routine changes in a non-production work environment.
. . .
6. [Plaintiff] is unable to perform any past relevant work.
. . .
10. Considering [Plaintiff's] age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform.
. . .
11. [Plaintiff] has not been under a disability, as defined in the [] Act, from May 20, 2012, through the date of this decision.

(Tr. 15-24 (bold font and internal parenthetical citations omitted).)

         II. DISCUSSION

         Federal law “authorizes judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's denial of social security benefits.” Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 561 (4th Cir. 2006). However, “the scope of [the Court's] review of [such a] decision . . . is extremely limited.” Frady v. Harris, 646 F.2d 143, 144 (4th Cir. 1981). Plaintiff has not established entitlement to relief under the extremely limited review standard.

         A. Standard of Review

         “[C]ourts are not to try [a Social Security] case de novo.” Oppenheim v. Finch, 495 F.2d 396, 397 (4th Cir. 1974). Instead, the 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.” Hines, 453 F.3d at 561 (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted). “Substantial evidence means ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). “It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted). “If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is substantial evidence.” Hunter, 993 F.2d at 34 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         “In reviewing for substantial evidence, the [C]ourt should not undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the [ALJ, as adopted by the Commissioner].” Mastro, 270 F.3d at 176 (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted). “Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the [Commissioner] (or the ALJ).” Id. at 179 (internal quotation marks omitted). “The issue before [the Court], therefore, is not whether [the claimant] is disabled, but whether the ALJ's finding that [the ...


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