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Hurt v. Berryhill

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

June 11, 2018

SHERRY G. HURT, 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 Judgment on the Pleadings Rule 12(c), F.R.Civ.P.” (Document No. 8) and “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, applicable authority, and oral arguments, the undersigned will direct that Plaintiff's “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Rule 12(c), F.R.Civ.P.” (Document No. 8) be denied; that “Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment” (Document No. 13) be granted; and that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Sherry G. Hurt (“Plaintiff”), through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on her application for disability benefits. (Document No. 1). On March 13, 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 November 23, 2005. (Transcript of the Record of Proceedings (“Tr.”) 15). The Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denied Plaintiff's applications initially on February 18, 2013, and again after reconsideration on August 29, 2013. (Tr. 144, 148, 154, 158). 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. We realize that your condition keeps you from doing some types of work, 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.

(Tr. 158); see also (Tr. 154).

         Plaintiff filed a timely written request for a hearing on October 2, 2013. (Tr. 15, 163). On May 22, 2015, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Kevin Foley (the “ALJ”). (Tr. 15, 41-64). In addition, Lavonne Brent, a vocational expert (“VE”), and David Lund, Plaintiff's attorney, appeared at the hearing. Id.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 28, 2015, denying Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 15-33). On October 16, 2015, Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was granted by the Appeals Council on May 5, 2017. (Tr. 240, 242). Upon review of the ALJ's decision, the Appeals Council issued a partially favorable decision on July 5, 2017. (Tr. 5-9).

         Plaintiff's “Complaint” seeking a reversal of the ALJ's and the Appeals Council's determinations was filed in this Court on September 8, 2017. (Document No. 1). On December 12, 2017, the parties consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction in this matter. (Document No. 7).

         Plaintiff's “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Rule 12(c), F.R.Civ.P.” (Document No. 8) and Plaintiff's “Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Rule 12(c), F.R.Civ.P.” (Document No. 9) were filed January 16, 2018; 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 April 13, 2018. Plaintiff declined to file a reply brief, and the time to do so has lapsed. See Local Rule 7.2 (e).

         On May 3, 2018, the undersigned scheduled this matter for a hearing on June 7, 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 May 22, 2018, reporting that their attempt to resolve or narrow the issues had failed.

         The undersigned held a hearing in this matter on June 7, 2018, allowing the parties one more opportunity to present their arguments. Based on the foregoing, the pending motions are now ripe for review and disposition.

         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 reweigh 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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