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Hopson v. Berryhill

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

November 22, 2017

EDWARD KELLY HOPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MAX O. COGBURN JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the court on plaintiff's (#15) and defendant's (#22) cross Motions for Summary Judgment. The matter is ripe for review. Having carefully considered each motion and reviewed the pleadings, the court enters the following findings and Order.

         FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

         I. Administrative History

         In August 2010, plaintiff filed an application for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), alleging a disability that commenced on July 23, 2010. (Tr. 126). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and on February 1, 2012, Administrative Law Judge Charles R. Howard (“the ALJ”) issued a written decision denying plaintiff's claim on the basis that he was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. 13, 126). On June 25, 2012, the Appeals Council dismissed plaintiff's request for review as untimely. (Tr. 143-44).

         On February 16, 2012, plaintiff filed another application for a Period of Disability and DIB, alleging disability since July 23, 2010. (Tr. 183). The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 183). The ALJ denied the claim in a decision issued on December 12, 2013 (Tr. 183-95). On April 9, 2015, the Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings. (Tr. 200-02). On remand, a hearing was held before the ALJ on August 27, 2015. (Tr. 13, 32-47). On September 14, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying the claim. (Tr. 13-25). On August 25, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3). 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. ...


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