United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division
JAMES A. HOLMAN, 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 Summary Judgment” (Document No. 10) and the
“Commissioner's Motion For Summary Judgment”
(Document No. 13). The parties have consented to Magistrate
Judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and
these motions are ripe for disposition. After careful
consideration of the written arguments, the administrative
record, and applicable authority, the undersigned will direct
that “Plaintiff's Motion For Summary
Judgment” (Document No. 10) be denied; that
the “Commissioner's Motion For Summary
Judgment” (Document No. 13) be granted; and
that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.
James A. Holman (“Plaintiff”), through counsel,
seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative
decision on his application for disability benefits.
(Document No. 1). In March 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 July 1, 2012, which was later
amended to July 31, 2014. (Transcript of the Record of
Proceedings (“Tr.”) 18, 214, 221). The
Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denied
Plaintiff's application initially on May 3, 2013, and
again after reconsideration on August 5, 2013. (Tr. 18, 134,
142). In its “Notice of Reconsideration, ” the
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) included
the following explanation of its decision:
On your application you stated that you are disabled because
of back problems, a cracked spine, vision problems in your
right eye, severe vertigo, liver problems, high cholesterol,
nausea, and dizziness.
The medical evidence shows that your condition is not severe
enough to be considered disabling.
We do not have sufficient vocational information to determine
whether you can perform any of your past relevant work.
However, based on the evidence in file, we have determined
that you can adjust to 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 or about
August 19, 2013. (Tr. 18, 160). On June 8, 2015, Plaintiff
appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law
Judge Scott C. Firestone (the “ALJ”). (Tr. 18,
33-71). In addition, Katharine Bradford, a vocational expert
(“VE”), and David R. Paletta, Plaintiff's
attorney, appeared at the hearing. Id.
issued an unfavorable decision on September 10, 2015, denying
Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 15-28). On November 6, 2015,
Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's
decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on December
6, 2016. (Tr. 1-3, 7). The ALJ decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's review request. (Tr. 1).
“Complaint” seeking “judicial review by
this Court and the entry of a judgment for such relief as may
be proper, including costs” was filed in this Court on
January 10, 2017. (Document No. 1, p.2). On May 2, 2017, the
parties consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction, and this
case was reassigned. (Document No. 9)
Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 10) and
“Plaintiff's Brief In Support Of Motion For Summary
Judgment” (Document No. 10-1) were filed May18, 2017;
and the “Commissioner's Motion For Summary
Judgment” (Document No. 13) and “Memorandum Of
Law In Support Of The Commissioner's Motion For Summary
Judgment” (Document No. 14) were filed August 14, 2017.
Plaintiff declined to file a reply brief, and the time to do
so has lapsed. See Local Rule 7.2 (e).
February 7, 2018, the undersigned scheduled this matter for a
hearing on March 28, 2018, and directed the parties to make a
good faith attempt to resolve or narrow the issues. (Document
No. 15). The parties filed a “Joint Notice”
(Document No. 16) on March 9, 2018, reporting that their
attempt to resolve or narrow the issues had failed. The
pending motions are now ripe for disposition.
further review of this case, the undersigned has decided to
cancel the scheduled hearing and issue this decision.
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).
question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was under a
“disability” as that term of art is defined for
Social Security purposes, at any time between July 31, 2014,
and the date last insured, March 31, 2016. (Tr. 18). To
establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden
of proving that he was disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
146 n.5 (1987).
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is