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Waycaster v. Berryhill

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

March 21, 2018

NORMAN WAYCASTER Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          David C. Keesler United States Magistrate Judge

         THIS MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Plaintiff's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 16) and Defendant's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 18). 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 direct that Plaintiff's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 16) be denied; that Defendant's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 18) be granted; and that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Norman Waycaster (“Plaintiff”), through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on his application for disability benefits. (Document No. 1). On September 12, 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 August 30, 2012. (Transcript of the Record of Proceedings (“Tr.”) 14, 187, 193). The Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denied Plaintiff's application initially on November 27, 2013, and again after reconsideration on March 3, 2014. (Tr. 14, 96, 108, 118, 126). 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 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.

(Tr. 118).

         Plaintiff filed a timely written request for a hearing on March 31, 2014. (Tr. 14, 136). On November 6, 2015, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Wendell M. Sims (the “ALJ”). (Tr. 14, 28-49). In addition, G. Roy Sumpter, a vocational expert (“VE”), and Lindsey Robison, Plaintiff's attorney, appeared at the hearing. Id.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 21, 2015, denying Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 11-23). On January 5, 2016, Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on November 14, 2016. (Tr. 1-3, 9). 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 16, 2017. (Document No. 1). On May 2, 2017, the parties filed a “Joint Stipulation Of Consent To Exercise Jurisdiction By A United States Magistrate Judge, ” and the case was reassigned to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. (Document No. 11).

         Plaintiff's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 16) and “Plaintiff's Memorandum Of Law In Support Of A Motion For Summary Judgment Pursuant To Fed.R.Civ.P. 56” (Document No. 17) were filed June 9, 2017; and Defendant's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 18) and “Memorandum In Support Of The Commissioner's Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 19) were filed July 24, 2017. Plaintiff declined to file a reply brief, and the time to do so has lapsed. See Local Rule 7.2(e).

         On February 7, 2018, this matter was scheduled for a hearing on March 28, 2018, and the parties were directed to make a good faith attempt to narrow or resolve the pending issues. (Document No. 26). The parties filed a “Joint Notice” on March 16, 2018, informing the Court that “the parties have agreed to limit the issue solely to the ALJ's weighing of the opinion of treating physician Richard W. Evans, M.D.” (Document No. 27, p.1).

         The pending motions are now ripe for review and 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 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).

         Ultimately, 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 ...


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