United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
KEISHA L. WOOTEN, 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 Judgment on the Pleadings Rule 12(c),
F.R.Civ.P.” (Document No. 10) and Defendant's
“Motion for Summary Judgment” (Document No. 17).
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 the Plaintiff's “Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings Rule 12(c), F.R.Civ.P.” (Document No. 10) be
denied; that the Defendant's “Motion for
Summary Judgment” (Document No. 17) be
granted; and that the Commissioner's decision be
Keisha Lavonne Wooten (“Plaintiff”), through
counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable
administrative decision on her application for disability
benefits. (Document No. 1). On or about October 3, 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 June 1, 2013.
(Transcript of the Record of Proceedings (“Tr.”)
10, 196, 199). The Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denied
Plaintiff's applications initially on January 21, 2014,
and again after reconsideration on June 9, 2014. (Tr. 10,
111-22, 123-30, 131-40). In its “Notice[s] of
Reconsideration, ” the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) included the following explanation of its
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. 123, 131).
filed a timely written request for a hearing on or about July
3, 2014. (Tr. 10, 141-42). On June 1, 2016, Plaintiff
appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law
Judge Todd Jacobson (the “ALJ”). (Tr. 10, 31-54).
In addition, Robert E. Brabham, Jr., a vocational expert
(“VE”), and David Lund, Plaintiff's attorney,
appeared at the hearing. Id.
issued an unfavorable decision on July 6, 2016, denying
Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 10-18). On August 17, 2016,
Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's
decision. (Tr. 194-95). The Appeals Council denied this
request on June 14, 2017. (Tr. 1-3). The ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner when the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's review request. (Tr.
“Complaint” seeking a reversal of the ALJ's
determination was filed in this Court on July 17, 2017.
(Document No. 1). On October 26, 2017, the parties consented
to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction in this matter. (Document
“Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Rule 12(c)
F.R.Civ.P.” (Document No. 10) and “Memorandum of
Law in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings Rule 12(c), F.R.Civ.P.” (Document No. 11)
were filed November 16, 2017. Defendant's “Motion
for Summary Judgment” (Document No. 17) and
“Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner's Motion
for Summary Judgment” (Document No. 18) were filed
March 1, 2018. Plaintiff declined to file a reply brief, and
the time to do so has lapsed. See Local Rule 7.2
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.
20). The parties filed a “Joint Notice” (Document
No. 21) on May 21, 2013, reporting that their attempt to
resolve or narrow the issues had failed.
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.
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 ...