United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
KENNETH D. BELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Vance
Caulkins's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 7) and
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 10), as
well as the parties' briefs and exhibits. Plaintiff,
through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable
administrative decision denying Mr. Caulkins's
application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.
reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative
record, and applicable authority, and for the reasons set
forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is
DENIED; Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment is GRANTED; and the
Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
Caulkins applied for disability benefits on January 23, 2012,
alleging disability beginning December 1, 2010. (Tr. at
129-35; 836). His application was denied at the initial
and reconsideration levels. (Tr. at 78, 88, 836). After
conducting a hearing on September 12, 2013, Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) John L. McFadyen denied his
application in a decision dated October 22, 2013. (Tr. at
14-25, 836). The Appeals Council denied his request for
review. (Tr. at 1, 836). Mr. Caulkins appealed his claim to
the United States District Court on March 13, 2015. (Tr. at
975-78). The District Court remanded the claim back to the
Appeals Council (“AC”) in an order dated December
11, 2015. (Tr. at 979-90). The AC directed the ALJ to provide Mr.
Caulkins the opportunity for a new hearing, to take any
further action needed to complete the administrative record,
and to issue a new decision. (Tr. at 993, 836).
December 13, 2016, the ALJ held a hearing in accordance with
the AC's mandate. (Tr. at 860-892). In a decision dated
January 31, 2017, the ALJ determined that Mr. Caulkins was
not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social
Security Act from December 1, 2010, through December 31,
2014, the last date insured. (Tr. at 853). The AC denied Mr.
Caulkins's request for review of the January 2017
decision. (Tr. at 820-23). The ALJ's decision now stands
as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Mr. Caulkins
has requested judicial review.
reasons stated below, the Court affirms the decision of the
THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION
followed the required five-step sequential evaluation process
established by the Social Security Administration to
determine if Mr. Caulkins was disabled under the law during
the relevant period. At step one, the ALJ found that Mr.
Caulkins had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
during the period from his alleged onset date of December 1,
2010 through his date last insured on December 31, 2014. (Tr.
at 838, Finding 2). At step two, the ALJ found that Mr.
Caulkins had the following severe impairments: status-post
left inguinal hernia repair, recurrent left inguinal hernia,
and neuritis of the ilioinguinal nerve. (Tr. at 838, Finding
3). The ALJ considered Mr. Caulkins's impairments under
listings in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, at step
three and found that they did not meet or medically equal any
listing. (Tr. at 845, Finding 4).
ALJ, at step four, found that Mr. Caulkins has the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full
range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a).
(Tr. at 845). The ALJ further found that while Mr. Caulkins
was unable to perform any past relevant work, considering his
age, education, work experience, and RFC, he could have
performed other jobs that exist in significant number in the
national economy through the date last insured. (Tr. at 852,
Finding 6 & Finding 10).
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,
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401
(1971); and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct
legal standards. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453,
1456 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Hunter v. Sullivan,
993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992) (per curiam). The District
Court does not review a final decision of the Commissioner
de novo. Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343,
345 (4th Cir. 1986); King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597,
599 (4th Cir. 1979); Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d
773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).
Social Security Act provides that “[t]he findings of
the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). In Smith v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176,
1179 (4th Cir. 1986) (quoting Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)), the Fourth Circuit defined
“substantial evidence” thus:
Substantial evidence has been defined as being “more
than a scintilla and do[ing] more than creat[ing] a suspicion
of the existence of a fact to be established. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind ...