United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
Cogburn, Jr. United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 11), and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment, (Doc. No. 13). Plaintiff, through
counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable
administrative decision on her application for disability
benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2018). For the
reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment is DENIED, Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment is GRANTED, and the Commissioner's final
decision is AFFIRMED.
procedural history of this case is not in dispute. Plaintiff
applied for Social Security disability benefits on May 29,
2012, alleging that her disability began on January 2, 2010.
(Tr. 1446, 1500). Plaintiff's claim was denied at three
points: initially, upon reconsideration, and by an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 88-99,
114-27, 145-58, 175-91, 18-33). Plaintiff then requested
review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council,
which was denied. (Tr. 1436-42). Next, Plaintiff filed a
timely appeal in this Court. (Tr. 1536). Before fully
briefing the case, the parties agreed to remand to the ALJ,
which the Court ordered on April 7, 2016. (Tr. 1536-37).
remand, the ALJ held a second administrative hearing, issuing
a decision on February 14, 2017. (Tr. 1446-64). In that
decision, using the standard five-part test, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act. (Tr. 1446-64). In the February 14, 2017,
decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful employment since January 2, 2010, the
date she alleged her disability began. (Tr. 1448). Next, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: obesity, migraine headaches, bipolar disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive
disorder (OCD), and panic disorder without agoraphobia. (Tr.
1449); see 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(c),
416.920(c). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff's
impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of
one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 1450). The ALJ then
determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional
to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except the claimant should perform no work with
the public and should work with things rather than people.
Within these limitations, she could have occasional
supervision and occasional interaction with coworkers.
(Tr. 1453). Based on these limitations, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a
cashier/stocker. (Tr. 1463). Finally, the ALJ determined that
there existed a significant number of jobs in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform, given her RFC. (Tr.
1463). Based on these determinations, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act and
was, therefore, not entitled to disability insurance
benefits. (Tr. 1464). On May 15, 2018, the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the
Commissioner's decision final. (Tr. 1436-42). Plaintiff
has filed this civil action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision.
now argues that (1) the case should be remanded as the
appointment of the ALJ by the Social Security Administration
violated the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution,
and (2) the case should be remanded as the ALJ's decision
was not supported by substantial evidence considering the
standard set in Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632 (4th
Cir. 2015), as it did not incorporate Plaintiff's
“vocationally significant mental health
limitations.” (Pl. Br. 21). Defendant contends, first,
that Plaintiff has waived the first claim by failing to raise
it at any point during the administrative process and,
second, that the ALJ's decision is supported by
substantial evidence and should be affirmed as the ALJ
properly explained his findings regarding Plaintiff's
mental impairments and accounted for the appropriate
limitations in the RFC. (Def. Br. 2).
405(g) of Title 42 of the United States Code permits judicial
review of the Social Security Commissioner's denial of
social security benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2018).
When reviewing a Social Security disability determination, a
reviewing court must “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 of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012). Substantial
evidence is that which “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 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) (citation omitted). In reviewing the
record for substantial evidence, the Court does “not
undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute our judgment for that of the
ALJ. Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to
differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the
responsibility for that decision falls on the ALJ.”
Id. (citation omitted).
considering an application for disability benefits, the
Commissioner uses a five-step “sequential”
process to evaluate the disability claim. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). In doing so, the
Commissioner asks, in sequence, whether the claimant: (1)
worked during the alleged period of disability; (2) had a
severe impairment; (3) had an impairment that met or equaled
the severity of a listed impairment; (4) could return to his
past relevant work; and (5) if not, could perform any other
work in the national economy. Id.; see also
Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 861 (4th Cir. 2017)
(citing Mascio, 780 F.3d at 634). The claimant bears
the burden of proof at steps one through four, but the burden
shifts to the Commissioner at step five. See Lewis,
858 F.3d at 861; Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176,
179-80 (4th Cir. 2016).
carefully considered the record, the parties' briefs, and
Plaintiff's assignments of error, the Court finds that
Plaintiff has waived her ability to raise an improper
appointment claim by not raising the issue earlier in the
administrative process and that the Commissioner's
decision was supported by substantial evidence.
Plaintiff has waived the ability to make a Lucia claim by
not raising the issueat any point