United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
REIDINGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 11] and the Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 13].
Taylor Nicole Curry, a minor under the age of 18, filed an
application for supplemental security income through her
mother on March 22, 2012, alleging an onset date of March 1,
2011. [Transcript (“T.”) 81, 291]. The
Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration. [T. 190, 205]. Upon the Plaintiff's
request, a hearing was held on August 8, 2013, before
Administrative Law Judge Charles R. Howard (“ALJ
Howard”). [T. 214, 88-111]. On October 10, 2013, ALJ
Howard issued a written decision (“the 2013 ALJ
decision”), finding that the Plaintiff was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act since March 22,
2012. [T. 161-178]. The Appeals Council issued a remand order
on January 21, 2015, vacating the 2013 ALJ decision and
remanding the case for further hearing. [T. 183-186]. A
hearing was held on April 23, 2015, before ALJ Howard. [T.
112-132]. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was over the
age of 18. [T. 60]. Plaintiff testified at this hearing, as
did a vocational expert (“VE”). [T. 112]. On
January 7, 2015, ALJ Howard issued a decision denying the
Plaintiff benefits. [T. 60-81]. The Appeals Council denied
the Plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
[T. 1-4]. The Plaintiff has exhausted all available
administrative remedies, and this case is now ripe for review
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner is
limited to (1) whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's decision, Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); and (2) whether the Commissioner
applied the correct legal standards, Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).
“When examining [a Social Security Administration]
disability determination, a reviewing 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, 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012).
“Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d
650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted).
“It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence
but may be less than a preponderance.” Hancock v.
Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
reviewing for substantial evidence, [the Court should] not
undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the
ALJ.” Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653 (internal
quotation marks and alteration omitted). Rather,
“[w]here conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds
to differ, ” the Court defers to the ALJ's
decision. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). To
enable judicial review for substantial evidence, “[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.”
Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir.
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
“disability” entitling a claimant to benefits
under the Social Security Act, as relevant here, is
“[the] inability to engage in 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.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). The Social Security Administration Regulations
set out a detailed five-step process for reviewing adult
applications for disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920; Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th
Cir. 2015). “If an applicant's claim fails at any
step of the process, the ALJ need not advance to the
subsequent steps.” Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d
1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). The burden is
on the claimant to make the requisite showing at the first
four steps. Id.
determining whether or not a child claimant is disabled, the
ALJ follows a three-step sequential process. See 20
C.F.R. § 416.924. At step one, the ALJ determines
whether the child claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b). If so, the child
claimant's application is denied regardless of the
medical condition, age, education, or work experience of the
child claimant. Id. If not, the case progresses to
step two, where the child claimant must show a severe
impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). If the child
claimant does not show that any medically determinable
impairment is “severe, ” within the meaning of
the regulations, then the child claimant is not disabled.
three, the ALJ must determine whether one or more of the
child claimant's impairments meets or equals one of the
listed impairments (“Listings”) found at 20
C.F.R. 404, Appendix 1 to Subpart P. 20 C.F.R. §
416.924(d). If a child claimant's impairments do not meet
the severity of any listed impairment, the ALJ must then
determine whether or not the child claimant's impairments
result in limitations that functionally equal the Listings,
by assessing the degree of functional limitation in six
domains of functioning. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a. The child
claimant's impairment(s) must result in
“marked” limitations in two domains of
functioning or a “severe” limitation in one
domain. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). If not, the child
claimant is not disabled and the application for benefits
must be denied. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d).
determining whether or not an adult claimant is disabled, the
ALJ follows a five-step sequential process. See 20
C.F.R. § 416.920. Steps one and two are the same as
under the child standard. Compare 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(i), (ii) with id.
§§ 416.924(b), (c). At step three, however, the ALJ
must determine only whether one or more of the adult
claimant's impairments meets or equals one of the
Listings. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If so, the
adult claimant is automatically deemed disabled regardless of
age, education or work experience. Id. If not,
before proceeding to step four, the ALJ must assess the adult
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). The RFC is an administrative assessment
of “the most” an adult claimant can still do on a
“regular and continuing basis” notwithstanding
the adult claimant's medically determinable impairments
and the extent to which those impairments affect the adult
claimant's ability to perform work-related functions. SSR
96-8p; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1546(c); 404.943(c);
four, the adult claimant must show that his or her
limitations prevent the adult claimant from performing his or
her past work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
Mascio, 780 F.3d at 634. If the adult claimant can
still perform his or her past work, then the adult claimant
is not disabled. Id. Otherwise, the case progresses
to the fifth step where the burden shifts to the
Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must establish
that, given the adult claimant's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, the adult claimant can perform
alternative work which exists in substantial numbers in the
national economy. Id.; Hines v. Barnhart,
453 F.3d 559, 567 (4th Cir. 2006). “The Commissioner
typically offers this evidence through the testimony of a
vocational expert responding to a hypothetical that
incorporates the claimant's limitations.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920; Mascio, 780 F.3d at
635. If the Commissioner succeeds in shouldering her burden
at step five, the adult claimant is not disabled and the
application for benefits must be denied. Id.
Otherwise, the adult claimant is entitled to benefits. In
this case, the ALJ rendered a determination adverse to the
Plaintiff at the third step under the child standard and at
the fifth step under the adult standard.