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Debty v. Saul

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

September 20, 2019

JOSEPH BENJAMIN DEBTY, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          ORDER

          MAX O. COGBURN JR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiffs Motion to Receive New and Material Evidence (Doc. No. 14), Plaintiff s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13), and Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 20). This matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for review. Having considered the motions and reviewed the pleadings, the Court enters the following Order.

         I. ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

         On September 4, 2014, Plaintiff Joseph Debty filed applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II, and supplemental security income under Title XVI, of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). In both applications, Plaintiff alleged he became disabled beginning June 1, 2003. (Tr. 171, 175). Plaintiffs claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, so he filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 11). On August 31, 2017, ALJ Colin Fritz held a hearing for de novo consideration of Plaintiffs claims. (Id.). Thereafter, on November 15, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision concluding Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. 11-21). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff s request for review on September 25, 2018, rendering the ALJ’s decision a final decision reviewable by this Court. (Tr. 5). Plaintiff exhausted all available administrative remedies, so this case is ripe for judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         It appears that the ALJ’s findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence. As such, this Court adopts and incorporates those findings herein as fully set forth. The findings are referenced in the substantive discussion that follows.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In considering cross-motions for summary judgment, this Court “examines each motion separately, employing the familiar standard” provided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Desmond v. PNGI Charles Town Gaming, 630 F.3d 351, 354 (4th Cir. 2011). Thus, each motion is reviewed “on its own merits ‘to determine whether either of the parties deserve judgment as a matter of law.’” Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted).

         When reviewing a disability determination, the Court “is required to uphold the determination when an ALJ has applied correct legal standards and the ALJ’s factual findings are supported by substantial evidence.” Bird v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012). Federal courts do not conduct de novo review of the evidence. See Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986). Instead, our inquiry is limited to whether there is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). It “consists of more than a mere scintilla evidence but may be less than a preponderance.” Id. The Court will not “reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute our judgment for that of the ALJ.” Id. (citation and alterations omitted). Put simply, “[w]here conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the ALJ.” Id (citation and alterations omitted).

         “A necessary predicate to engaging in substantial evidence review is a record of the basis for the ALJ’s ruling.” Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2013). Thus, “[t]he 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.” Id If the Court has “no way of evaluating the basis for the ALJ’s decision, ‘the proper course, except in rare circumstances, is to remand to the agency for additional investigation or explanation.’” Id (quoting Florida Power & Light v. Lorion, 470 U.S. 729, 744 (1985)); see Brown v. Colvin, 639 Fed.Appx. 921, 922 (4th Cir. 2016) (recognizing that district courts may not “min[e] facts from the [administrative] record to support the ALJ’s decisions”). This ensures the ALJ can “adequately explain his reasoning . . . in the first instance.” Radford, 734 F.3d at 296.

         IV. SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

         A. INTRODUCTION

         The Court has reviewed the transcript of Plaintiff’s administrative hearing, the decision of the ALJ, and the administrative record. The issue is not whether the Court might have reached a different conclusion had it been presented with the same testimony and evidence, but whether the decision of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence. For the reasons explained herein, the Court finds that it is.

         B. SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION

         The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is ...


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