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Morrisey v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

April 1, 2019

YUVAYA DE'ASHAHTE MORRISEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          N. Carlton Tilley, Jr., Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Yuvaya D. Morrisey (“Plaintiff”) brought this action to obtain review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her claim for supplemental security income. The Court has before it the certified administrative record and cross-motions for judgment. For the reasons stated below, Commissioner's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. #11] is GRANTED, and Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment Reversing the Commissioner [Doc. #9] is DENIED.

         I.

         Plaintiff filed an application for child supplemental security income in December of 2012, alleging a disability onset date as of August 1, 2010. (Administrative Record (“AR”) at 154-59.) The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Id. at 135-138, 134.) After a hearing, at which Plaintiff moved to amend the onset date to December 7, 2012, the ALJ determined on December 16, 2015, that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act as either a child or an adult. (Id. at 10-32, 55, 50-108.) The Appeals Council denied a request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision for purposes of review. (Id. at 1-3.)

         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). In reviewing for substantial evidence, the Court does not “re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). The issue before the Court is not whether Plaintiff is disabled but whether the finding that she is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and based upon a correct application of the relevant law. Id.

         The ALJ analyzed Plaintiff's claim both as a minor and as an adult. First, the ALJ followed the three-step process to determine whether an individual under the age of eighteen is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of application. (AR at 14.) At step two, the ALJ found that prior to turning eighteen, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: epilepsy, learning disorder, and mood disorder. (Id. at 15.) At step three, the ALJ found that prior to turning eighteen, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equaled the listing. (Id. at 15-16.) In evaluating whether Plaintiff's impairments functionally equaled a listing, the ALJ found marked limitations in acquiring and using information and less than marked limitations in the remaining categories. (Id. at 21-26.) As such, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to turning eighteen. (Id. at 26.)

         Second, the ALJ determined whether the claimant was disabled as an adult, as set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not developed any new impairment or impairments since turning eighteen. (AR. At 26.) The ALJ next determined that since turning eighteen, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to, one listed in Appendix 1. (Id.) The ALJ then found that since turning eighteen, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work

except that [she] would never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; would have no exposure to extreme heat, humidity, and wetness, dust, odors, fumes and pulmonary irritants, unprotected heights, hazardous machinery, or moving mechanical parts; [she] would never drive an automobile; would be limited to perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks but not at a production rate pace, would make only simple work-related decisions and would have only occasional interaction with supervisors, co-workers, and the public.

(Id. at 28.) At the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. (Id. at 30.) At step five, the ALJ found that since turning eighteen, there were jobs which Plaintiff could perform consistent with her RFC, age, education, and work experience. (Id. at 30.) Consequently, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Id. at 31.)

         II.

         In this appeal, Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's finding that she was not disabled under the child's standard prior to turning eighteen. Instead, her arguments relate only to the ALJ's analysis under the adult standard. More specifically, Plaintiff raises three issues. First, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ materially erred in assessing her mental RFC. (Pl.'s Brief in Supp. of Mot. for J. Reversing or Modifying the Decision of Comm'r of Soc. Sec. (“Pl.'s Br.”) at 2-7 [Doc. #10].) Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in relying on testimony from a vocational expert that did not accurately take into consideration all her limitations. (Id. at 8-9.) Third, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to adequately take into consideration her history of migraines in his step three analysis. (Id. at 9-11.) As explained below, none of these objections have merit.

         A.

         Plaintiff first objects that the ALJ materially erred in assessing her mental RFC. (Id. at 2-7.) In support of this objection, Plaintiff makes several sub-arguments. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed “to complete a proper assessment of her social functioning limitations.” (Id. at 4.) Second, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to address how her social functioning limitations affect her ability to get along with her co-workers or the general public. (Id. at 4-6.) Third and finally, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to consider if she could perform work-related functions for a full workday. (Id. at 6-7.) Each argument is addressed in turn.

         1.

         Plaintiff's first argument in support of her first objection focuses on the requirements of SSR 96-8p. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff argues that SSR 96-8p required the ALJ to analyze her “ability to perform ‘[w]ork-related mental activities generally required by competitive, remunerative work (including) the abilities to: understand, carry out, and remember instructions; use judgment in making work-related decisions; respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers and work situations; and deal with changes in a routine work setting'.” (Id.) Plaintiff argues the ALJ violated this mandate when he “failed to discuss what effect, if any Morrisey's difficulties with activities of daily living, when combined with her other impairments, have on her ability to engage in work activity on a sustained basis.” (Id.)

         The operative precedent interpreting SSR 96-8p in the Fourth Circuit is Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 638 (4th Cir. 2015), which held, in part, that an ALJ should explain why moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace do not translate into a limitation in the RFC, and if he or she does not, remand is warranted. (emphasis added). Many district courts within the Fourth Circuit “have extended the holding in Mascio to require an ALJ to either include restrictions in the RFC arising out of mild limitations in the broad areas of functioning or justify the omission of such restrictions.” Jackson v. Berryhill, No. 1:16CV1162, 2017 WL 3278903, at *8 (M.D. N.C. Aug. 1, 2017) (emphasis in original) (citing Ashcraft v. Colvin, No. 3:13CV00417RLVDCK, 2015 WL 9304561, at *9 (W.D. N.C. Dec. 21, 2015) & Reinhardt v. Colvin, No. 3:14-CV-00488-MOC, 2015 WL 1756480, at *3 (W.D. N.C. Apr. 17, 2015)), adopted by unpublished judgment (Aug. 24, 2017).

         Assuming this is the correct approach, and Mascio does in fact apply to mild limitations of functioning, the ALJ complied with this requirement[1]. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had mild limitations in her activities of daily living because of her need for “seizure precautions.” (AR at 27.) The ALJ noted that Plaintiff “can bathe and dress herself, she attends school daily, she can do light cleaning, and she provides care for her baby, ”[2] (id. at 27, 63, 79, 84-85, 92), and concluded that Plaintiff's “impairments are controlled with medication such that she has been able to continue her daily activities, hobbies and responsibilities, ” (id. at 30). The ALJ ...


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