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McKnight v. Office of Disability Adjudication and Review

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

August 8, 2013

Randell McKnight
Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

SUSAN K. GAUVEY, Magistrate Judge.

Dear Mr. McKnight and Counsel:

Plaintiff Randell McKnight ("Mr. McKnight") filed a complaint in this Court challenging the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Commissioner") regarding his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). Defendant, the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, filed this motion seeking summary judgment affirming the decision. This case has been referred to the undersigned magistrate judge by consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Rule 301. (ECF 6, 14). No hearing is necessary. Local Rule 105.6.

Currently pending before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 23-1). Plaintiff has not responded to this motion (ECF No. 24), but the Court has reviewed the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") in full.[1] For the reasons that follow, this Court GRANTS defendant's motion for summary judgment and AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner.

I. Procedural History

On November 4, 2009, Mr. McKnight filed a Title II application for disability insurance benefits, as well as a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. (R. 12). Mr. McKnight was last insured on March 31, 2012. Id . He claimed disability beginning February 1, 2009. Id . On April 13, 2010, plaintiff's applications were denied at the initial level; on December 20, 2010, they were denied again upon reconsideration. (R. 66, 70). The plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing, which was held before ALJ Vivian W. Mittleman on November 21, 2011. (R. 12). That same day, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision that Mr. McKnight was not disabled within the meaning of the Act prior to July 5, 2011, but became disabled on that date and has remained disabled since. (R. 12).

The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Agency. (R. 1). Plaintiff now seeks review of that decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g).

II. Factual History

The Court has reviewed the defendant's Statement of the Facts (ECF No. 23-1, 2-10) and, finding that it accurately represents the record in all material respects, hereby adopts it.

III. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

In his Complaint, the plaintiff did not identify any specific errors in the Commissioner's decision. The Court assumes he is challenging the Commissioner's rejection of any disability onset date earlier than July 5, 2011, as otherwise the decision was favorable. The defendant argues that the Acting Commissioner was correct in deciding that Mr. McKnight was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act since July 5, 2011, but not before. Specifically, the defendant avers that this decision was both reasonable and supported by substantial evidence in the record, and thus plaintiff's appeal should be denied. The defendant's arguments are well-taken and considered in the Court's review of the ALJ's findings.

IV. Standard of Review

The function of this Court on review is to leave the findings of fact to the agency and to determine upon the whole record whether the agency's decision is supported by substantial evidence, not to try plaintiff's claim de novo. King v. Califano , 599 F.2d 597, 598 (4th Cir. 1979). This Court must uphold the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the ALJ employed the proper legal standards. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3) (2001); Craig v. Chater , 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996); Coffman v. Bowen , 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). Substantial evidence "consists of more than a scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Laws v. Celebrezze , 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). It is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal quotations omitted). In reviewing the decision, this Court will not re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Craig , 76 F.3d at 589; Hayes v. Sullivan , 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). The Commissioner, as fact finder, is responsible for resolving conflicts in the evidence. Snyder v. Ribicoff , 307 F.2d 518, 520 (4th Cir. 1962). If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, this Court is bound to accept them. Underwood v. Ribicoff , 298 F.2d 850 (4th Cir. 1962). However, despite deference to the Commissioner's findings of fact, "a factual finding by the ALJ is not binding if it was reached by means of an improper standard or misapplication of the law." Coffman , 829 F.2d at 517. The Court has authority under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to affirm, modify, or reverse the decision of the agency "with or without remanding the case for a rehearing." Melkonyan v. Sullivan , 501 U.S. 89, 98 (1991). V. Discussion of ALJ Findings As noted, plaintiff offers no arguments in response to defendant's motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, the Court has no specific issues within the ALJ's decision to address, but reviews it in its entirety. The Court finds that the ALJ's determinations were proper under the law. In reviewing a claimant's eligibility for DIB and SSI, an ALJ ...

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