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Williamson v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

August 14, 2014

TIARA WILLIAMSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

CATHERINE C. EAGLES, District Judge.

Plaintiff Tiara Williamson brought this action to obtain review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for supplemental security income. The Court has before it the certified administrative record and cross-motions for judgment.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Ms. Williamson's mother protectively filed an application for supplemental security income on her behalf in September of 2004. (Tr. 267-70.)[2] The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. ( Id. at 206-07.) After three hearings and two remands, the ALJ denied Ms. Williamson's claim and the Appeals Council denied further review, making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision for review. ( Id. at 17-34.)

II. STANDARD FOR REVIEW

The scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is specific and narrow. Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986). Review is limited to determining if there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In reviewing for substantial evidence, the Court does not re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). The issue here is not whether Ms. Williamson is disabled but whether the finding that she is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence according to the applicable law. Id.

III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

The ALJ analyzed Ms. Williamson's claim both as a minor and as an adult. The ALJ began with the three-step process to determine if a child is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924; see Bryant ex rel. Bryant v. Barnhart, 63 F.App'x 90, 92-93 (4th Cir. 2003) (unpublished). At step one, the ALJ found that Ms. Williamson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of application. (Tr. 22.) At step two, the ALJ found that before turning eighteen, Ms. Williamson had these severe impairments: bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, anti-social personality disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. ( Id. ) Where, as here, an ALJ finds that a minor has a severe impairment, he must determine if the impairment meets, medically equals, or functionally equals a listing. See 20 C.F.R. 416.924(d). At step three, the ALJ found that before turning eighteen, Ms. Williamson's impairments did not meet or medically equal ("meets or equals analysis") the requirements of a listing. (Tr. 22.) In concluding that her impairments did not functionally equal a listing, the ALJ found marked limitations in interacting and relating with others; no limitations in self-care, health and physical well-being; and less than marked limitations in all other categories. ( Id. at 25-29.)

Next, the ALJ evaluated whether Ms. Williamson was disabled as an adult. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; see Albright v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). The ALJ determined that she had not developed any new impairments since attaining age eighteen. (Tr. at 29.) The ALJ also found that since attaining age eighteen, Ms. Williamson did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to, one listed in Appendix 1. ( Id. ) The ALJ then determined that since attaining the age of eighteen, Ms. Williamson had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work if limited to (1) simple, one or two-step instructions, (2) involving well-set defined routines requiring only minimal occupational changes in job duties, (3) limited to the performance of simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a supervised, low stress environment requiring few decisions, (4) and limited to superficial interpersonal contact and no direct dealing with the public. ( Id. at 30-33.) At the fourth step, the ALJ found Ms. Williamson had no past relevant work. ( Id. at 33.) At step five, the ALJ decided that there were jobs which she could perform consistent with her RFC, age, education, and work experience. ( Id. at 33-34.)

IV. ISSUES AND ANALYSIS

Ms. Williamson first argues that the ALJ erred by failing to find that she met Listing 112.08. Second, she argues that the ALJ erred by finding her deficiencies in the domains of "acquiring and using information" and "attending and completing tasks" to be less than marked. Third, Ms. Williamson contends that the ALJ erred by giving too little weight to the opinion of consulting examiner Dr. Anthony Smith.

A. The ALJ's Listing 112.08 Analysis Is Supported by Substantial Evidence.

Ms. Williamson contends that "the only real question under Listing 112.08" is whether her "pattern of maladaptive behavior is deeply ingrained." While this is one thing that has to be shown before Listing 112.08 applies, that is not a decision made in a vacuum, nor is it the only requirement. In addition to the showing of deeply ingrained pattern, the child must also demonstrate marked limitations in at least two of the following categories: (1) cognitive/communicative functioning; (2) social functioning; (3) personal functioning; or (4) difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. Id. at Pt. B ("Paragraph B"), incorporating in part ¶B2 of Listing 112.02. Ms. Williamson identifies no evidence establishing marked limitations in two of these categories, and a claimant cannot satisfy Listing 112.08 by only demonstrating that she has deeply ingrained maladaptive behaviors.[3]

Ms. Williamson contends further that the ALJ committed fatal error because he failed to cite any evidence in concluding that she did not meet Listing 112.08. She also essentially contends that the ALJ's decision at this step was so vague as to preclude judicial review. Both arguments fail. The ALJ is required to identify the relevant listed impairments and compare each of the listed criteria to the evidence of the claimant's symptoms. Cook v. Heckler, 783 F.2d 1168, 1172-73 (4th Cir. 1986). Yet, this is not "an inflexible rule requiring an exhaustive point-by-point discussion in all cases." Russell v. Chater, 60 F.3d 824, 1995 WL 417576, at *3 (4th Cir. July 7, 1995) (unpublished). "Meaningful review may [still] be possible... where the ALJ discusses in detail the evidence presented and adequately explains [himself]." Johnson v. Astrue, No. 5:08-CV-515-FL, 2009 WL 3648551, at *2 (E.D. N.C. Nov. 3, 2009) (unpublished) (collecting cases). In fact, a court may look to other steps for ...


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