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Metcalf v. Berryhill

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

March 5, 2018

GEORGE M. METCALF, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          David C. Keesler Judge

         THIS MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Plaintiff's “Motion For Judgment On The Pleadings Rule 12(c), F.R.Civ.P.” (Document No. 10) and Defendant's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 12). The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B). After careful consideration of the written arguments, the administrative record, and applicable authority, the undersigned will direct that Plaintiff's “Motion For Judgment On The Pleadings Rule 12(c), F.R.Civ.P.” (Document No. 10) be denied; that Defendant's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 12) be granted; and that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff George M. Metcalf (“Plaintiff”), through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on his application for disability benefits. (Document No. 1). On or about October 4, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for 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 June 1, 2010. (Transcript of the Record of Proceedings (“Tr.”) 19, 158). The Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denied Plaintiff's application initially on or about April 22, 2014, and again after reconsideration on October 14, 2014. (Tr. 19, 88, 100). 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. 100).

         Plaintiff filed a timely written request for a hearing on October 29, 2014. (Tr. 19, 110). On June 16, 2016, Administrative Law Judge Jerry W. Peace (the “ALJ”) held a video conference hearing from Greenville, SC. (Tr. 37). Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing in Asheville, NC. (Tr. 19, 37-63). In addition, Janette Clifford, a vocational expert (“VE”), and William L. Coleman, Plaintiff's attorney, appeared at the hearing. Id.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on September 28, 2016, denying Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 19-29). On November 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on December 7, 2016. (Tr. 1, 7). The ALJ decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's review request. (Tr. 1).

         Plaintiff's “Complaint” seeking a reversal of the ALJ's determination was filed in this Court on January 19, 2017. (Document No. 1). The parties filed a “Joint Stipulation Of Consent To Jurisdiction By U.S. Magistrate Judge” on May 2, 2017, and this case was assigned to the undersigned Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff's “Motion For Judgment On The Pleadings Rule 12(c), F.R.Civ.P.” (Document No. 10) and Plaintiff's “Memorandum Of Law In Support Of Plaintiff's Motion For Judgment On The Pleadings Rule 12(c), F.R.Civ.P” (Document No. 11) were filed June 1, 2017; and Defendant's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 12) and “Memorandum In Support Of Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 13) were filed August 8, 2017.[1]Plaintiff declined to file a reply brief, and the time to do so has lapsed. See “Social Security Briefing Order, ” No. 3:13-MC-198-FDW, (Document No. 1) (W.D. N.C. Dec. 23, 2013) and Local Rule 7.2 (e).

         On February 7, 2018, the undersigned scheduled this matter for a hearing on March 8, 2018, and directed the parties to make a good faith attempt to resolve or narrow the issues. (Document No. 14). The parties filed a “Joint Notice” (Document No. 16) on February 26, 2018, that their attempt to narrow or resolve the issues failed. The pending motions are now ripe for disposition.

         After further review of this case, the undersigned will cancel the scheduled hearing and issue this decision.

         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 ...


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