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Early v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

May 6, 2018

DOMINIQUE EARLY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION

          Dennis L. Howell, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment (# 19, 20) and Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (# 22). Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”).[1] The issues have been fully briefed, and the matter is now ripe for ruling. For the reasons addressed below, the Court recommends that Plaintiff's motions be denied, and the Commissioner's motion be granted.

         I. Procedural Background

         As a child, Plaintiff received Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits based on a disability. (Transcript of Administrative Record (“T.” 26.) The Social Security Act required Defendant to redetermine Plaintiff's (continuing) eligibility for SSI when he turned 18 years old. (T. 26.) On April 16, 2012, it was determined that Plaintiff was no longer disabled as of April 1, 2012. (T. 26). Plaintiff appealed (T. 26), and the decision was upheld on reconsideration after a hearing by a State agency Disability Hearing Officer. (T. 26).

         On April 25, 2014, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing. (T. 26, 72.) The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 14, 2016.[2] (T. 26.) On May 27, 2016, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's disability ended on April 1, 2012, he had not become disabled again since that date, and all payments should stop immediately. (T. 33.)

         Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's May 27, 2016, decision. (T. 6.) On May 15, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T. 6-9, 94-97.) On July 24, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant action seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision. See Compl. (# 1).

         II. Standard of Review

         This Court is authorized to review the Commissioner's final decision that a person is not entitled to disability benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 561 (4th Cir. 2006) (citing Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001)). The Court's role is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's factual findings. Meyer v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 700, 704 (4th Cir. 2011).

         “Substantial evidence” is defined as “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) (per curiam) (internal quotation and citation omitted). It constitutes “more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be less than a preponderance.” Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996). “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 v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987).

         A person under age 18 is deemed “disabled” if he or she has a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that causes marked and severe functional limitations, and that can be expected to cause death or that lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.906. When that person turns 18, the Commissioner must redetermine their eligibility under the adult disability standard.[3]42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(H)(iii); 20 C.F.R. § 416.987(a), (c).

         The ALJ follows a four-step process in age-18 redeterminations. Lloyd v. Colvin, No. 4:14-CV-00040, 2015 WL 5690817, at *2 (W.D. Va. Sept. 28, 2015). In particular, the ALJ asks, in the following order, whether the young adult: (1) has a severe impairment, (2) has an impairment that meets or equals an impairment listed in the Social Security Act's regulations, (3) is able to return to his or her past relevant work, if any, and if not, (4) can perform other work that exists in the economy. 20 C.F.R. § 416.987(b) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c), (h)).[4]

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         In her May 27, 2016, decision, the ALJ ultimately concluded that Plaintiff's disability ended on April 1, 2012, and Plaintiff had not become disabled again since that date. (T. 33.) In reaching her ultimate conclusion, the ALJ made the following specific findings:

(1) The claimant attained age 18 on June 12, 2011, and he was eligible for SSI benefits as a child for the month preceding the month in which he attained age 18. The claimant was notified that he was found no longer disabled as of April 1, 2012, based on a redetermination of disability under the rules for adults who file new applications.
(2) Since April 1, 2012, the claimant has had the following severe impairment: mild cerebral palsy (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c)).[5]
(3) Since April 1, 2012, the claimant did not have any impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926)
(4) Since April 1, 2012, the claimant has had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a), except that he can stand/walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday and sit six hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant can perform frequent but not constant pushing and pulling with his bilateral lower extremities. He can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant can work with occasional exposure to extreme heat and cold, pulmonary irritants, workplace hazards, such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery.
(5) The claimant has no past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 416.965).[6]
(6) The claimant was born on June 13, 1993, and he is a younger individual age 18-44 (20 C.F.R. § 416.963).
(7) The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § 416.964).
(8) Transferability of jobs skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 416.968).
(9) Since April 1, 2012, considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.969, 416.969(a)).
(10) The claimant's disability ended on April 1, 2012, and he has not become disabled again since that date (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.987(e), 416.920(g)).

(T. 26-33.)

         IV. Discussion[7]

         A. The ALJ properly recognized and accounted for ...


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