United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 9). Plaintiff, through
counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable
administrative decision on her application for supplemental
security income (“SSI”) 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 (Doc. No. 9), GRANTS Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 10), and AFFIRMS the
August 12, 2013, Plaintiff, Lillie Compton, filed a Title II
application for disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI
application for supplemental security income, alleging a
disability onset date of March 25, 2013. (Doc. No. 8-1, p.
60). These claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Id. On April 29, 2014, Plaintiff
filed a written request for hearing. Id. Through a
video hearing, Plaintiff appeared before Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) J. Petri on October 8, 2015.
Id. After reviewing Plaintiff's case and hearing
testimony from G. Roy Sumpter, an impartial vocational
expert, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act
(“SSA”). Id. at 69.
filed a request for review by the Appeals Council but was
denied on February 13, 2017. Id. at 5. Having
exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed
this present action (Doc. No. 1) on April 14, 2017. Both
parties have moved for summary judgment, and their motions
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
838, 841 (4th Cir. 1982). The ALJ, and not the Court, has the
ultimate responsibility for weighing the evidence and
resolving any conflicts. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456.
the Social Security Act, there is a five-step sequential
process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1). Step one is to determine
whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity; if claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity, they will be found not disabled. Id.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i). Step two is to determine whether
the claimant has a severe medically determinable physical or
mental impairment or a combination of impairments that is
severe and meets the duration requirement. Id.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). At step three, if the
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets
or medically equals one of the listings in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, then the claimant will be found
disabled. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). Step four
is to determine whether the claimant has the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the
requirements of his past relevant work. Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). Lastly, step five is to consider whether
the claimant is able to make an adjustment to other work,
considering claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
experience. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). While the
claimant bears the burden of production and proof during the
first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at
step five to show that other work is available in the
national economy which the claimant could perform. Pass
v. Charter, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir.
case, at step one the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 25, 2013.
(Doc. No. 8-1, p. 62). At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: Crohn's
disease, regional enteritis, gastroesophageal reflux disease
(GERD), status post cholectomy, chronic lower back pain,
chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD), and asthma. Id. At step three, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a
listing. Id. at 63. Before ...