United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION
C. KEESLER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Plaintiff's “Motion
For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 9) and
“Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment”
(Document No. 11). This case has been referred to the
undersigned Magistrate Judge 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 respectfully recommend that
Plaintiff's “Motion For Summary Judgment” be
granted;” that “Defendant's Motion
For Summary Judgment” be denied; and that the
Commissioner's decision be vacated.
Marlin Haynes (“Plaintiff”), through counsel,
seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative
decision on his application for disability benefits.
(Document No. 1). In or about April 2012, 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 September 24,
2010. (Administrative Transcript
(“Tr.”) 54, 363, 370). The Commissioner of Social
Security (the “Commissioner” or
“Defendant”) denied Plaintiff's application
initially on September 27, 2012, and again after
reconsideration on or about November 28, 2012. (Tr. 54, 241,
258, 266). 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. We realize that your condition keeps you from
doing any of your past jobs, but it does not keep you from
doing less demanding work. Based on your age, education, and
past work experience, you can do other 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 January 25,
2013. (Tr. 54, 276). On October 16, 2014, Plaintiff appeared
and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge
Alice Jordan (the “ALJ”). (Tr. 54, 76-138). In
addition, Leanna Hollenbeck, a vocational expert
(“VE”), and James Toms, Plaintiff's
attorney's legal assistant, appeared at the hearing.
issued an unfavorable decision on February 6, 2015, denying
Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 51-70). On April 8, 2015,
Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's
decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on December
13, 2016. (Tr. 8, 24). The ALJ decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's review request. (Tr. 8).
“Complaint” seeking a reversal of the ALJ's
determination was filed in this Court on February 16, 2017.
(Document No. 1). On March 1, 2017, the undersigned was
assigned to this case as the referral Magistrate Judge. The
Honorable Max O. Cogburn, Jr. was assigned to this matter as
the presiding District Judge on September 1, 2017.
“Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 9)
and the “Brief Of Plaintiff” (Document No. 10)
were filed June 26, 2017; and “Defendant's Motion
For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 11) and
“Memorandum Of Law In Support Of Defendant's Motion
For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 12) were filed
August 22, 2017.
declined to file a reply brief, and the time to do so lapsed.
See Local Rule 7.2 (e). However, Plaintiff did file,
with leave of the Court, a “Supplemental Brief”
(Document No. 16) on December 22, 2017. See
(Document Nos. 14 and 15). Defendant then filed a
“Supplemental Memorandum Of Law In Further Support Of
Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document
No. 17) on January 12, 2018.
pending motions are ripe for disposition, and therefore, a
memorandum and recommendation to Judge Cogburn is now
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).