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Hendrix v. Berryhill

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

June 13, 2019

DANNY GLENN HENDRIX 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. 10) and Defendant's “Motion for Summary Judgment” (Document No. 12). 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 and “Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment” be granted; and that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Danny Glenn Hendrix (“Plaintiff”), through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on his application for disability benefits. (Document No. 1). On or about March 6, 2015, 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 January 1, 2013. (Transcript of the Record of Proceedings (“Tr.”) 15). The Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denied Plaintiff's application initially on April 29, 2015, and again after reconsideration on September 14, 2015. (Tr. 15, 122, 133). In its “Notice of Reconsideration, ” the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) included the following explanation of its decision:

The medical evidence shows your condition results in some limitations in your ability to perform work related activities. We have determined that your condition is not severe enough to keep you from working. We considered the medical and other information, your age and education in determining how your condition affects your ability to work. 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.

(Tr. 133).

         Plaintiff filed a timely written request for a hearing on November 16, 2015. (Tr. 15, 145). On October 2, 2017, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Mary Ryerse (the “ALJ”). (Tr. 15, 32-62). In addition, Kentrell Pittman, a vocational expert (“VE”), and Fred D. Pike, Plaintiff's attorney, appeared at the hearing. Id.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 21, 2017, denying Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 15-27). On February 20, 2018, Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on August 9, 2018. (Tr. 1-3, 200). 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 September 25, 2018. (Document No. 1). Following the parties' “Joint Stipulation Of Consent…” (Document No. 11), this matter was re-assigned to the undersigned Magistrate Judge on February 14, 2019.

         Plaintiff's “Motion for Summary Judgment” (Document No. 10) and “Plaintiff's Memorandum In Support Of [His] Motion For Summary Judgment In His Social Security Appeal” (Document No. 9) were filed on February 11, 2019; and the “Commissioner's Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 12) and “Memorandum Of Law In Support Of The Commissioner's Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 13) were filed on April 5, 2019. Plaintiff declined to file a reply brief, and the time to do so has lapsed. See Local Rule 7.2 (e).

         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 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 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).

         III. ...


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