United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
KAREN MOUZON on behalf of K.W. a minor, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on the parties’
cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (DE 16, 20).
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 72(b), United States Magistrate Judge Robert
T. Numbers, II, entered memorandum and recommendation
(“M&R”), wherein it is recommended that the
court deny plaintiff’s motion, grant defendant’s
motion, and affirm defendant’s decision. Plaintiff
timely filed objections to the M&R, and the issues raised
are ripe for ruling. For the reasons that follow, the court
adopts the M&R as its own, grants defendant’s
motion, denies plaintiff’s motion, and affirms
defendant’s final decision.
August 15, 2012, defendant determined that claimant, K.W., a
minor, (“K.W.” or “claimant”), who is
appearing in the instant case pro se through his grandmother
and legal guardian, Karen Mouzon, (“Mouzon” or
“plaintiff”), was disabled as of April 17, 2012.
On June 8, 2015, defendant determined that claimant, who was
then three years old, was no longer disabled as of June 1,
2015. The determination was upheld on reconsideration.
Plaintiff requested hearing before an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”), who, after a September 20, 2017,
hearing, denied plaintiff’s request for relief from the
cessation determination. Plaintiff requested review, and the
Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review,
leaving the ALJ’s decision as defendant’s final
decision. Plaintiff then filed pro se a complaint in this
court on July 19, 2018, seeking review of defendant’s
Standard of Review The court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) to review defendant’s final decision
denying benefits. The court must uphold the factual findings
of the ALJ “if they are supported by substantial
evidence and were reached through application of the correct
legal standard.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir. 1996). “Substantial evidence [is] . . .
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quotations omitted).
The standard is met by “more than a mere scintilla of
evidence but . . . less than a preponderance.” Laws
v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). In
reviewing for substantial evidence, the court is not to
“re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute [its] judgment” for
defendant’s. Craig, 76 F.3d at 589.
necessary predicate to engaging in substantial evidence
review is a record of the basis for the ALJ’s ruling,
” including “a discussion of which evidence the
ALJ found credible and why, and specific application of the
pertinent legal requirements to the record evidence.”
Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir.
2013). An ALJ’s decision must “include a
narrative discussion describing how the evidence supports
each conclusion, ” Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d
176, 189 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Mascio v. Colvin,
780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th Cir. 2015)), and an ALJ “must
build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his
conclusion.” Id. (quoting Clifford v.
Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000)).
assist it in its review of defendant’s denial of
benefits, the court may “designate a magistrate judge
to conduct hearings . . . and to submit . . . proposed
findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition [of
the motions for judgment on the pleadings].”
See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The parties may
object to the magistrate judge’s findings and
recommendations, and the court “shall make a de novo
determination of those portions of the report or specified
proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is
made.” Id. § 636(b)(1). The court does
not perform a de novo review where a party makes
only “general and conclusory objections that do not
direct the court to a specific error in the
magistrate’s proposed findings and
recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d
44, 47 (4th Cir.1982). Absent a specific and timely filed
objection, the court reviews only for “clear error,
” and need not give any explanation for adopting the
M&R. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins.
Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005); Camby v.
Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir.1983). Upon careful
review of the record, “the court may accept, reject, or
modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations
made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. §
ALJ’s determination of eligibility for disability
benefits for a child turns on whether the child has “a
medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which
results in marked and severe functional limitations, and
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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
order to determine whether claimant continued to be disabled,
following claimant’s favorable disability determination
in 2012, the ALJ was required to follow a three-step medical
improvement evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.994a(b). First, the ALJ must determine whether medical
improvement occurred in the impairment that the claimant had
at the time of his 2012 disability determination (referenced
as the “comparison point decision” or
“CPD”). 20 C.F.R. § 416.994a(b)(1). Second,
if there has been a medical improvement and if the CPD was
based on functional equivalence to the listings, the ALJ must
consider whether the CPD impairment currently functionally
equals the listings. 20 C.F.R. § 416.994a(b)(2). If not,
at step three, the ALJ must determine if the claimant is
currently disabled under the rules, including whether
claimant has severe impairment(s) that functionally equal(s)
the listings. 20 C.F.R. § 416.994a(b)(3).
determining whether an impairment or combination of
impairments functionally equals the listings, the ALJ must
assess the claimant’s functioning in terms of six
domains: (1) acquiring and using information; (2) attending
and completing tasks; (3) interacting and relating to others;
(4) moving about and maniputlating objects; (5) caring for
yourself; and (6) health and physical well-being. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.926a(b)(1). To functionally equal the listings,
the claimant’s impairment or impairments must result in
at least “marked” limitations in two domains of
functioning. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(d). In sum, the
claimant will not longer be considered disabled if the ALJ
finds that claimant’s impairments have medically
improved and no longer result in marked or more severe
functional limitations. The claimant has the burden of
demonstrating that his impairments meet or equal a listed
impairment. See Kellough v. Heckler, 785 F.2d 1147,
1152 (4th Cir. 1986).
case, the ALJ performed the three-step medical improvement
evaluation process. At step one, the ALJ determined that at
the time of the 2012 CPD, claimant had the following
medically determinable impairments: autism spectrum disorder
(“ASD”); chromosome 8 duplication; and
developmental delay. (Tr. 14). At the time of the 2012 CPD,
claimant’s impairments resulted in marked limitations
in two domains: acquiring and using information; and
interacting and relating with others. (Tr. 15). At step two,
the ALJ determined that medical improvement occurred as of
June 1, 2015, and that since that time the impairments that
the claimant had at the time of the 2012 CPD have not
functionally equaled the listings. (Id.). At step
three, the ALJ determined that claimant has not had
impairments that meet or functionally qual the listings. (Tr.
31). Therefore, the ALJ found that claimant’s
disability ended as of June 1, 2015, and claimant has not
become disabled again since that date. (Tr. 32). B. Analysis
Plaintiff argues that medical and educational evidence shows
that K.W.’s conditions have worsened since the 2012
CPD. The magistrate judge cogently addressed
plaintiff’s argument based upon an asserted worsening
of conditions since the 2012 CPD. (See M&R (DE
23) at 10-13). Upon de novo review of plaintiff’s
argument, the court adopts the M&R as its own. The court
writes separately to augment the analysis in the M&R.
suggests in her objections that the ALJ failed to consider
properly the medical assessment performed by Dr. Patrice
Minter, on August 5, 2014, as evidence that plaintiff could
not dress himself without supervision, could not pedal a
tricycle, had “noted behavioral issues, ” and had
an affirmed diagnosis of ASD and developmental delays. (Obj.
(DE 26) at 2). The ALJ, however, specifically discussed the
assessment of Minter, noting findings that plaintiff did not
dress with supervision, did not pedal a tricycle, “did
not listen and was disobedient, ” and was
“diagnosed with autism and developmental delay.”
(Tr. 19). The ALJ also noted that Dr. Minter found that
plaintiff was “talking a lot more.”
(Id.). The ALJ considered Dr. Minter’s
assessment under the domain of “health and physical
well-being, ” noting that claimant had a healthy
well-child check in August 2014, as a basis for finding no
limitation in this domain. (Tr. 30-31).
discussion of Dr. Minter’s assessment was not
warranted, particularly in the key domains of acquiring and
using information and interacting and relating to others, for
several reasons. First, Dr. Minter’s assessment came
ten months prior to the cessation date, at a time when
defendant does not dispute claimant was disabled. (Tr. 456).
Second, Dr. Minter does not make any findings tending to show
a marked limitation in the functional areas of these domains.
(Id.). Third, and most critically, the ALJ discussed
in great detail and found more directly ...