United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesvill Division
C. Keesler, Judge
MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Plaintiff's
“Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 13)
and “Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment”
(Document No. 15). 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 “Plaintiffs Motion For Summary Judgment”
(Document No. 13) be granted; that
“Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment”
(Document No. 15) be denied; and that the
Commissioner's decision be vacated.
Melinda Beilharz (“Plaintiff”), through counsel,
seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative
decision on her application for disability benefits.
(Document No. 1). On or about June 22, 2015, Plaintiff filed
an application for a period of disability 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 September 14,
2014. (Transcript of the Record of Proceedings
(“Tr.”) 16, 55, 261). The Commissioner of Social
Security (the “Commissioner” or
“Defendant”) denied Plaintiff's application
initially on October 16, 2015, and again after
reconsideration on December 21, 2015. (Tr. 16, 202, 209). In
its “Notice of Reconsideration, ” the Social
Security Administration (“SSA”) included the
following explanation of its decision:
We have determined that your condition is not severe enough
to keep you from working. We considered the medical and other
information, your age, education, training, and work
experience in determining how your condition affects your
ability to work.
You said you are unable to work because of:
Mental problems, suicidal, neck & back problems, PTSD,
disability in both hands due to arthritis problem with both
sacroiliac joints leading to difficulty in walking.
The medical evidence shows that you do have severe mental and
physical impairments which do limit your ability to do some
work related activities. However, you can still do work that
does not require heavy lifting and is simple in nature.
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.
filed a timely written request for a hearing on January 7,
2016. (Tr. 16, 216-218).
October 26, 2017, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a
hearing before Administrative Law Judge Todd D. Jacobson (the
“ALJ”). (Tr. 16, 55-83, 250-253). In addition,
Ellen Levine, a vocational expert (“VE”), and
Caryn Brzykcy, Plaintiff's attorney, appeared at the
hearing. Id. See also (Tr. 214).
issued an unfavorable decision on January 17, 2018, denying
Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 13-26). On March, 12, 2018,
Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's
decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on November
21, 2018. (Tr. 1, 256). 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 January 14, 2019.
(Document No. 1). On April 11, 2019, the parties consented to
Magistrate Judge jurisdiction in this matter. (Document No.
“Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 13)
and “Plaintiff's Memorandum In Support Of Motion
For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 14) were filed June
27, 2019; and “Defendant's Motion For Summary
Judgment” (Document No. 15) and “Memorandum In
Support Of Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment”
(Document No. 16) were filed July 1, 2019.
“Plaintiff's Response To Defendant's Memorandum
In Support Of Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document
No. 17) was filed on July 10, 2019.
on the foregoing, the pending motions are now ripe for review
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 22, 2015,
and the date of his decision. (Tr. 16, 25). To establish
entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the burden of proving
that she was disabled ...