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Houk v. Berryhill

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

May 29, 2018

JAMES HOUK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Max O. Cogburn Jr. United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on plaintiff's (#9) and defendant's (#11) cross Motions for Summary Judgment. The matter is ripe for review. Having carefully considered each motion and reviewed the pleadings, the Court enters the following findings and Order.

         FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

         I. Administrative History

         Plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Act and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act on July 27, 2012, alleging a period of disability with an onset date of February 9, 2006 (Tr. 215, 219). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's applications initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 98-101, 103-106). At plaintiff's request, Administrative Law Judge Valorie Stefanelli (“the ALJ”) held a hearing on her claims on July 28, 2016. (Tr. 31-67). After considering the hearing testimony and all of the evidence of record, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act during the period from her alleged onset date through December 31, 2011. (Tr. 13-30). Plaintiff asked the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied that request in February 2017, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5, 170). Having exhausted her administrative remedies, plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of that decision.

         II. Factual Background

         The Court adopts and incorporates the ALJ's factual findings herein as if fully set forth. Such findings are referenced in the substantive discussion which follows.

         III. Standard of Review

         The only issues on review are whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Review by a federal court is not de novo, Smith v. Schwieker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986); rather, inquiry is limited to whether there was “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, supra.

         Even if the undersigned were to find that a preponderance of the evidence weighed against the Commissioner's decision, the Commissioner's decision would have to be affirmed if supported by substantial evidence. Hays v. Sullivan, supra. The Fourth Circuit has explained substantial evidence review as follows:

the district court reviews the record to ensure that the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence and that its legal findings are free of error. If the reviewing court decides that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, it may affirm, modify, or reverse the ALJ's ruling with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. A necessary predicate to engaging in substantial evidence review is a record of the basis for the ALJ's ruling. The record should include a discussion of which evidence the ALJ found credible and why, and specific application of the pertinent legal requirements to the record evidence. If the reviewing court has no way of evaluating the basis for the ALJ's decision, then the proper course, except in rare circumstances, is to remand to the agency for additional investigation or explanation.

Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2013) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         IV. Substantial Evidence

         A. ...


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