United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
THERESA MAY DICK, o/b/o, DENNIS JAMES DICK, deceased, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
Cogburn Jr. United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on the parties'
opposing Motions for Summary Judgment. (Doc. Nos. 11, 12).
The matter is ripe for review. Having carefully considered
such motions and reviewed the pleadings, the court enters the
following findings, conclusions, and Order.
widow brought this action, under 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g) and 1383(c)(3), for review of defendant's final
administrative decision denying her husband's February
23, 2015, application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the
Social Security Act (“the Act”). Plaintiff died
on August 17, 2016, due to circumstances not at issue in this
case, as acknowledged by Plaintiff's widow (cancer of
liver, liver cirrhosis, alcohol abuse). (Tr. 27, 31-32).
DIB application alleged disability onset of July 12, 2012,
and was denied initially on May 13, 2015, and, upon
reconsideration, on July 17, 2015. (Tr. 12). Plaintiff timely
requested an administrative hearing, which was held on July
21, 2017. (Tr. 25-49). An administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) decision denying benefits was made on
September 20, 2017. (Tr. 12-19). Plaintiff appealed to
defendant's Appeals Council (“AC”), which, on
July 27, 2018, denied Plaintiff's request for review,
thereby causing the ALJ's decision to become the
“final decision” of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6).
Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of this decision pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
appearing that the ALJ's findings of fact are supported
by substantial evidence, the Court adopts and incorporates
such findings herein as if fully set forth. Such findings are
referenced in the substantive discussion which follows.
Standard of Review
only issues on review are whether the Commissioner applied
the correct legal standards and whether the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390
(1971); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th
Cir. 1990). Review by a federal court is not de
novo, Smith v. Schwieker, 795 F.2d 343, 345
(4th Cir. 1986); rather, inquiry is limited to whether there
was “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Perales, 402 U.S. at 401 (internal citations
omitted). Even if the Court were to find that a preponderance
of the evidence weighed against the Commissioner's
decision, the Commissioner's decision would have to be
affirmed if it was supported by substantial evidence.
Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456. The Fourth Circuit has
explained substantial evidence review as follows:
the district court reviews the record to ensure that the
ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial
evidence and that its legal findings are free of error. If
the reviewing court decides that the ALJ's decision is
not supported by substantial evidence, it may affirm, modify,
or reverse the ALJ's ruling with or without remanding the
cause for a rehearing. A necessary predicate to engaging in
substantial evidence review is a record of the basis for the
ALJ's ruling. The record should include a discussion of
which evidence the ALJ found credible and why, and specific
application of the pertinent legal requirements to the record
evidence. If the reviewing court has no way of evaluating the
basis for the ALJ's decision, then the proper course,
except in rare circumstances, is to remand to the agency for
additional investigation or explanation.
Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2013)
(internal citations and quotations omitted).
Court has read the transcript of Plaintiff's
administrative hearing, closely read the decision of the ALJ,
and reviewed the relevant exhibits contained in the extensive
administrative record. The issue is not whether a court might
have reached a different conclusion had it been presented
with the same testimony and evidentiary materials, but
whether the decision of the administrative law judge is
supported by substantial evidence. For the following reasons,
the Court finds that the ALJ's decision was supported by
defines “disability” as an inability “to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). To qualify for
DIB under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)
and 423, an individual must meet the insured status
requirements of these sections, be under retirement age, file
an application for disability insurance benefits and a period
of disability, and be under a "disability" as
defined in the Act.
Plaintiff's date last insured (“DLI”) for DIB
was December 31, 2014. (Tr. 14, Finding 1). Therefore, he
would have to prove he became disabled on or before the DLI.
five-step process, known as “sequential” review,
is used by the Commissioner in determining whether a Social
Security claimant is disabled. The Commissioner evaluates a