United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
C. KEESLER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Plaintiff's
“Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 8)
and “Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment”
(Document No. 10). 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” (Document No. 8) be granted; that
“Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment”
(Document No. 10) be denied: and that the
Commissioner's decision be vacated.
Christopher Perkins (“Plaintiff”), through
counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable
administrative decision on his application for disability
benefits. (Document No. 1). On or about September 2, 2014,
Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405, alleging
an inability to work due to a disabling condition beginning
June 15, 2014. (Transcript of the Record of Proceedings
(“Tr.”) 13, 249). The Commissioner of Social
Security (the “Commissioner” or
“Defendant”) denied Plaintiff's application
initially on December 17, 2014, and again after
reconsideration on December 16, 2015. (Tr. 13, 102, 108). In
its “Notice of Reconsideration, ” the Social
Security Administration (“SSA”) included the
following explanation of its decision:
We reviewed the facts in your case and decided that
alcoholism is a contributing factor material to a finding of
disability. This means you would not be disabled if you
stopped using alcohol. Therefore, we cannot consider you
disabled under the law.
On your application you stated that you are disabled because
of depression, asthma, exposure to chemical (sulfuric acid),
sleeping disorder, chronic lumbosacral strain, tinnitus,
eczema, hypertension, worse knee, reflux, irritable bowel
syndrome, and history of right ACL tear.
The medical information shows that all of your other
impairments have also been considered and would not make you
disabled. It has been decided, therefore, that you are not
disabled according to the Security Act.
filed a timely written request for a hearing on December 22,
2015. (Tr. 13, 111-112). On December 14, 2017, Plaintiff
appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law
Judge Valorie Stefanelli (the “ALJ”). (Tr. 13,
36-69). In addition, Celena Earl, a vocational expert
(“VE”), and Tracy Funk, Plaintiff's
non-attorney representative, appeared at the hearing.
issued an unfavorable decision on July 16, 2018, denying
Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 10-12, 13-30). On July 17, 2018,
Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's
decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on
September 12, 2018. (Tr. 1, 245-247). 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 9, 2018.
(Document No. 1). On February 14, 2019, the parties consented
to the Magistrate Judge jurisdiction in this matter.
(Document No. 7)
“Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 8)
and “Plaintiff's Memorandum In Support Of Motion
For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 9) were filed April
1, 2019; and “Defendant's Motion For Summary
Judgment” (Document No. 10) and “Memorandum In
Support Of Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment”
(Document No. 11) were filed May 30, 2019. Plaintiff declined
to file a reply brief, and the time to do so has lapsed.
See Local Rule 7.2(e).
on the foregoing, the pending motions are now ripe for 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.”). “[A] reviewing court must
uphold the determination when an ALJ has applied correct
legal standards and the ALJ's factual findings are
supported by substantial evidence.” Peace v.
Berryhill, 2019 WL 2406626, at *1 (4th Cir. June 7,
2019) (quoting Brown v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin.,
873 F.3d 251, 267 (4th Cir. 2017)). 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 15, 2014,
and March 31, 2017, the date last insured. (Tr. 13, 15, 29).
To establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff has the
burden of proving that he was disabled within the meaning of
the Social Security Act. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n.5 (1987).
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is