United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
ASHLEY N. WILLIS Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
cause comes before the Court on cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings. [DE 23, 25]. A hearing was held on these
matters before the undersigned on August 30, 2019, at
Edenton, North Carolina. For the reasons discussed below, the
plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings [DE 23] is
DENIED and defendant's motion [DE 25] is GRANTED.
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) for
review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying her
claim for supplemental security income (SSI). Plaintiff
received SSI benefits during her childhood. When she reached
the age of 18 in June 2014, as required by law, plaintiffs
eligibility for benefits was redetermined under the
eligibility rules for adults. This resulted in a
determination that plaintiff was no longer disabled and she
would therefore lose her benefits. Plaintiff requested and
was given a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
on October 13, 2016 who issued an unfavorable ruling. The
decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the
Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiffs
request for review. Plaintiff then sought review of the
Commissioner's decision in this Court.
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), and
1383(c)(3), this Court's review of the Commissioner's
decision is limited to determining whether the decision, as a
whole, is supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner employed the correct legal standard.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
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) (per curiam) (internal quotation and
individual is considered disabled if he is unable "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
twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act
further provides that an individual "shall be determined
to be under a disability only if his physical or mental
impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not
only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering
his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other
kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
issued by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be followed in a disability case. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four,
but the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
If a decision regarding disability can be made at any step of
the process the inquiry ceases. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).
one, if the Social Security Administration determines that
the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the claim is denied. If not, then step two asks
whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination
of impairments. If the claimant has a severe impairment, it
is compared at step three to those in the Listing of
Impairments ("Listing") in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, App. 1. If the claimant's impairment meets or
medically equals a Listing, disability is conclusively
presumed. If not, at step four, the claimant's residual
functional capacity (RFC) is assessed to determine if the
claimant can perform his past relevant work. If the claimant
cannot perform past relevant work, then the burden shifts to
the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant,
based on his age, education, work experience, and RFC, can
perform other substantial gainful work. If the claimant
cannot perform other work, then he is found to be disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to properly account
for her non-exertional limitations in his RFC assessment.
Plaintiff further contends that the ALJ failed to evaluate
her claim for Child Disability Benefits ("CDB"). On
both issues, the Court finds that the ALJ committed no
regard to plaintiffs non-exertional limitations, the ALJ
found that plaintiff had moderate limitations in
understanding, remembering, or applying information, but
retained the ability to perform simple, repetitive, routine
tasks. Tr. 20. The ALJ also found that plaintiff had mild
limitations when interacting with others, mild limitations
managing/adapting herself, and moderate limitations
concentrating persisting, or maintaining pace. Tr. 20-21. In
determining plaintiffs RFC, the ALJ found that plaintiff was
limited to understanding, remembering, and carrying out
simple instructions. Tr. 21.
relies on Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 638 (4th
Cir. 2015), where the Fourth Circuit held that a restriction
to simple, routine tasks or unskilled work does not account
for a plaintiffs limitations in concentration, persistence,
and pace ("CPP") without some additional
explanation. But here, the ALJ did provide analysis
accounting for plaintiffs limitations in concentration,
persistence, and pace, and his finding is supported by the
record. The ALJ explained that while plaintiffs medically
determinable impairments could cause some of her alleged
symptoms, plaintiffs testimony regarding the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms was
afforded little weight because it was contradicted by
clinical findings and other evidence in the record. This
evidence included, among other things, Dr. Julia
Brannon's evaluation, which indicated plaintiff had the
capacity for persistence and had adequate self-care skills,
and Erich Smith's evaluation finding that plaintiff was
oriented in all spheres, had intact judgment, insight, recent
and remote memory, fund of knowledge and language. This
evidence was afforded great weight. In short, the ALJ
explained his RFC determination in a way that accounted for
plaintiffs CPP limitations and therefore did not run afoul of
Mascio. On this issue, the Court finds that the ALJ
committed no reversible error.
second argument is that the ALJ failed to evaluate her claim
for Title II CDB. This argument also fails. The ALJ assessed
whether plaintiff is disabled under the standard used for
determining initial eligibility for individuals who are age
18 or older pursuant to section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social
Security Act and determined that she was not disabled. This
is the correct disability standard for all of plaintiff s