United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division
C. Keesler United States Magistrate Judge.
MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Plaintiff's
“Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 7)
and Defendant's “Motion For Summary Judgment”
(Document No. 8). 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” be denied; that
“Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment” be
granted; and that the Commissioner's decision be
Melissa Ann Burr (“Plaintiff”), through counsel,
seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative
decision on her application for disability benefits.
(Document No. 1). On or about June 24, 2014, 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 8, 2013.
(Transcript of the Record of Proceedings (“Tr.”)
44, 200, 204).
Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denied
Plaintiff's application initially on or about August 18,
2014, and again after reconsideration on November 13, 2014.
(Tr. 44, 123, 133). In its “Notice of Reconsideration,
” the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) included the following explanation of its
On your application you stated that you are disabled because
of rheumatoid arthritis, back injury, hardware in back, pain,
and inflammation, and high blood pressure. 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 January 13,
2015. (Tr. 44, 150). On December 14, 2016, Plaintiff appeared
and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge
Michelle D. Cavadi (the “ALJ”). (Tr. 44, 62-86).
In addition, Barbara Azzam, a vocational expert
(“VE”), and Robert A. Whitlow, Plaintiff's
attorney, appeared at the hearing. Id.
issued an unfavorable decision on January 25, 2017, denying
Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 44-56). On March 20, 2017,
Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's
decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on August
9, 2017. (Tr. 1-4, 198). The ALJ decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's review request. (Tr. 1).
“Complaint” seeking a reversal of the ALJ's
determination was filed in this Court on November 21, 2017.
(Document No. 1). On December 12, 2017, the parties consented
to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction in this matter. (Document
“Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 7)
and “Plaintiff's Memorandum Of Law In Support Of
Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 7-1) were
filed January 23, 2018; and “Defendant's Motion For
Summary Judgment” (Document No. 8) and
“Memorandum Of Law In Support Of Defendant's Motion
For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 9) were filed March
27, 2018. Plaintiff declined to file a reply brief,
and the time to do so has lapsed. See Local Rule 7.2
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 June 24, 2014,
and the date of her decision. (Tr. 56). To establish
entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden of proving
that she was disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is