United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
COGBURN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff’s
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 9) and
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11).
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.
4, 2015, Plaintiff Kenneth Whitfield concurrently filed
applications for disability insurance benefits under Title
II, and supplemental security income under Title XVI, of the
Social Security Act (the “Act”). (Tr. 44). In
both applications, Plaintiff alleged he became disabled
beginning June 30, 2009. (Id.). Plaintiff’s
claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, so he
filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). On August 18, 2017, ALJ Colin
Fritz held a hearing for de novo consideration of
Plaintiff’s claims. (Id.). Thereafter, on
February 15, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision concluding
Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.
(Tr. 54). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s
request for review on November 30, 2018, rendering the
ALJ’s decision a final decision reviewable by this
Court. (Tr. 1). Plaintiff exhausted all available
administrative remedies, so this case is ripe for judicial
review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Court adopts and incorporates the ALJ’s factual
findings as if fully set forth. Such findings are referenced
in the substantive discussion which follows.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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 [its] 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).
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 F.
App’x 921, 922 (4th Cir. 2016) (recognizing courts do
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.
Court has closely read the transcript of Plaintiff's
hearing, the record exhibits, and the ALJ’s decision.
As explained below, the Court finds that the record contains
an insufficient basis to conduct meaningful substantial-basis
review. As such, the Court remands so the ALJ can adequately
explain his reasoning in the first instance.
defines “disability as the inability to do 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.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a),
416.905(a). The Commissioner uses a ...