Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Thomas v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

August 6, 2019

FLESUIA W. THOMAS, Plaintiff/Claimant,



         This matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings[1][DE-21, -23] pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Claimant Flesuia Thomas ("Claimant"), proceeding pro se, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial review of the denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") payments. The pending motions are ripe for adjudication. Having carefully reviewed the administrative record and the motions and memoranda submitted by the parties, it is recommended that Claimant's motion be denied, Defendant's motion be allowed, and the final decision of the Commissioner be affirmed.


         Claimant protectively filed an application for SSI benefits on October 9, 2014, alleging disability beginning June 10, 2002. (R. 253-58). The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 148-80). A hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was held on February 9, 2017, at which Claimant, represented by a non-attorney representative, and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared and testified. (R. 118-47). On April 20, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying Claimant's request for benefits. (R. 8-30). On April 24, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Claimant's request for review. (R. 1-7). Claimant then filed a complaint in this court seeking review of the now-final administrative decision.


         The scope of judicial review of a final agency decision regarding disability benefits under the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq., is limited to determining whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's factual findings and whether the decision was reached through the application of the correct legal standards. See Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). "The findings of the Commissioner ... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is "evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion." Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). While substantial evidence is not a "large or considerable amount of evidence," Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988), it is "more than a mere scintilla ... and somewhat less than a preponderance." Laws, 368 F.2d at 642. "In reviewing for substantial evidence, [the court should not] undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner]." Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4thCir. 2001) (quoting Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996), superseded by regulation on other grounds, 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d)(2)). Rather, in conducting the "substantial evidence" inquiry, the court's review is limited to whether the ALJ analyzed the relevant evidence and sufficiently explained his or her findings and rationale in crediting the evidence. Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v. Akers, 131 F.3d 438, 439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).


         The disability determination is based on a five-step sequential evaluation process as set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 under which the ALJ is to evaluate a claim:

The claimant (1) must not be engaged in "substantial gainful activity," i.e., currently working; and (2) must have a "severe" impairment that (3) meets or exceeds [in severity] the "listings" of specified impairments, or is otherwise incapacitating to the extent that the claimant does not possess the residual functional capacity to (4) perform ... past work or (5) any other work.

Albright v. Comm'r of the SSA, 174 F.3d 473, 475 n.2 (4th Cir. 1999). "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 of proof and production during the first four steps of the inquiry rests on the claimant. Id. At the fifth step, the burden shifts to the ALJ to show that other work exists in the national economy which the claimant can perform. Id.

         When assessing the severity of mental impairments, the ALJ must do so in accordance with the "special technique" described in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a(b)-(c). This regulatory scheme identifies four broad functional areas in which the ALJ rates the degree of functional limitation resulting from a claimant's mental impairments): understand, remember, or apply information; interact with others; concentrate, persist, or maintain pace; and adapt or manage oneself. Id. § 416.920a(c)(3). The ALJ is required to incorporate into his written decision pertinent findings and conclusions based on the "special technique." Id. § 416.920a(e)(3).

         In this case, Claimant contends she needed an "SSA Medical Doctor" to diagnose her failing condition and that a document erroneously indicated she declined to be seen by SSA medical staff.[2] Compl. [DE-5]; Pl.'s Mot. [DE-21].


         Applying the above-described sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found Claimant "not disabled" as defined in the Act. At step one, the ALJ found Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since the application date. (R. 13). Next, the ALJ determined Claimant had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, valvular heart disease, chronic renal failure, hypertension, limited visual acuity, major depressive disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, a specific learning disorder in reading, and generalized anxiety disorder. Id. At step three, the ALJ concluded Claimant's impairments were not severe enough, either individually or in combination, to meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 13-16). Applying the technique prescribed by the regulations, the ALJ found that Claimant's mental impairments had resulted in moderate limitations in understanding, remembering, or applying information; interacting with others; concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; and adapting or managing oneself. (R. 14).

         Prior to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), finding that Claimant had the ability to perform light work[3] with the following restrictions:

she can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; she can occasionally climb ramps/stairs and balance; she can frequently stoop and crouch. She can perform work that requires occasional far acuity; she must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants such as fumes, odors, dusts, gases and poor ventilation and to hazards such as dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. She can understand and remember very short and simple instructions; she can sustain the attention and concentration necessary to carry out those instructions, consistent with a reasoning level of 1 or 2 in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. She can have occasional interaction with the general public, coworkers and supervisors; and she can be able to adapt to routine changes in the work environment.

(R. 16-23). In making this assessment, the ALJ found Claimant's statements about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were "not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record" (R. 20). At step four, the ALJ concluded Claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work. (R. 23). At step five, upon considering Claimant's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined there ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.