United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division
KAREN L. SMITH, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
C. KEESLER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Plaintiff's
“Motion For Judgment On The Pleadings Rule 12(c),
F.R.Civ.P.” (Document No. 12) and
“Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment”
(Document No. 14). The parties have consented to Magistrate
Judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), and
immediate review is appropriate. After careful consideration
of the written arguments, oral arguments, the administrative
record, and applicable authority, the undersigned will direct
that Plaintiff's “Motion For Judgment On The
Pleadings …” (Document No. 12) be
denied; that “Defendant's Motion For
Summary Judgment” (Document No. 14) be
granted; and that the Commissioner's decision be
Karen L. Smith (“Plaintiff”), through counsel,
seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative
decision on her application for disability benefits.
(Document No. 1). On March 8, 2013, Plaintiff filed
applications for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405, and 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 February 17,
2013. (Transcript of the Record of Proceedings
(“Tr.”) 13, 202, 207). The Commissioner of Social
Security (the “Commissioner” or
“Defendant”) denied Plaintiff's application
initially on July 3, 2013, and again after reconsideration on
November 12, 2013. (Tr. 12, 120, 126, 132, 138, 142). 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. You are able to think, act
in your own interest, communicate, handle your own affairs,
and adjust to ordinary emotional stresses without significant
difficulties. Based on the description of the job performed
as a server, we have concluded that you have the functional
capacity to meet the functional demands of this type of work.
It has been decided, therefore, that you are not disabled
according to the Social Security Act.
filed a timely written request for a hearing on November 22,
2013. (Tr. 156). On June 11, 2015, Plaintiff appeared in
Charlotte, North Carolina and testified via video conference
hearing before Administrative Law Judge Mallette Richey (the
“ALJ”) in Florence, Alabama. (Tr. 12, 30-62). In
addition, Sandra M. Bruff, a vocational expert
(“VE”), and David Lund, Plaintiff's attorney,
appeared at the hearing. (Tr. 12, 31). On appeal to this Court,
Plaintiff has been represented by Maria Concetta Mayo and
Kristin Gordon Oakley, both of the Ricci Law Firm.
issued an unfavorable decision on August 20, 2015, denying
Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 12-23). On September 29, 2015,
Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's
decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on November
21, 2016. (Tr. 1-3, 8). The ALJ decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's review request. (Tr. 1).
“Complaint” seeking reversal or remand of the
ALJ's determination was filed in this Court on January 4,
2017. (Document No. 1). On April 10, 2017, the parties filed
a “Joint Stipulation Of Consent To Jurisdiction By
Magistrate Judge, ” and this matter was reassigned to
“Motion For Judgment On The Pleadings Rule 12(c),
F.R.Civ.P.” (Document No. 12) and “Memorandum Of
Law In Support Of Plaintiff's Motion For Judgment On The
Pleadings Rule 12(c), F.R.Civ.P” (Document No. 13) were
filed May 7, 2017; and “Defendant's Motion For
Summary Judgment” (Document No. 14) and
“Memorandum Of Law In Support Of Defendant's Motion
For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 15) were filed July
12, 2017.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
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. 16). The parties filed a “Joint Notice”
(Document No. 18) on February 15, 2018, reporting that their
attempt to resolve or narrow the issues had failed. The
undersigned conducted the March 8, 2018 hearing.
pending motions are ripe for disposition.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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.
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
mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Smith v. Heckler, 782 F.2d
1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986) (quoting Perales, 402
U.S. at 401).
it is the duty of the Commissioner, not the courts, to make
findings of fact and to resolve conflicts in the evidence.
Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456; King v. Califano,
599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir. 1979) (“This court does not
find facts or try the case de novo when reviewing disability
determinations.”); 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 inconsistences in the medical evidence, and that
it is the claimant who bears the risk of
nonpersuasion.”). Indeed, so long as the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, it must be affirmed even if the reviewing court
disagrees with the final outcome. Lester v.
Schweiker, 683 F.2d 838, 841 (4th Cir. 1982).