United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
cause comes before the Court on cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings. [DE 16, 18]. A hearing was held on these
matters before the undersigned on November 20, 2019 at
Elizabeth City, North Carolina. For the reasons discussed
below, plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings [DE
16] is DENIED and defendant's motion [DE 18] is GRANTED.
brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review
of the final decision of the Commissioner denying her claim
for a period of disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff
filed her application in March 2015. After initial denials,
plaintiff was given a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) in July 2017. The ALJ issued an unfavorable
ruling, finding plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ's
decision 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) 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. § l382c(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. § l382c(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).
case, the ALJ found at step two that plaintiff had the severe
impairments of diabetes mellitus, villonodular synovitis in
bilateral hands, hallux valgus bilaterally, obesity, and
myalgia. Plaintiff did not meet a step three listing. The ALJ
found plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work with
additional limitations, and was able to perform her past
relevant work of resource teacher. The ALJ also went on to
step five and determined that plaintiff could perform other
jobs in the national economy.
argues the ALJ erred by (1) ignoring specific limitations
opined by plaintiffs treating rheumatologist and (2) failing
to find plaintiffs fibromyalgia and depressed as severe
Court finds that the ALJ committed no reversible error with
respect to the weight assigned to the opinion of Dr. Maria
Watson, plaintiffs treating rheumatologist. The ALJ
sufficiently explained that the opinion was being afforded
little weight because Dr. Watson cited no evidence for her
opinion that plaintiff could not keep up with her job as a
schoolteacher nor perform any other job. Tr. 348.
Additionally, on the same day Dr. Watson issued her opinion,
she observed no abnormalities with plaintiffs lower
Court further finds no reversible error in the ALJ's
determination that plaintiffs fibromyalgia and depression
were not severe impairments. The ALJ acknowledged that the
diagnosis of fibromyalgia appears throughout the record but
determined that there was no evidence supporting the
diagnosis as required by SSR 12-2p. With respect to
depression, the ALJ carefully considered four broad areas of
mental functioning and went through each one in detail. Tr.
20. Moreover, substantial evidence existed in the record to
support the ALJ's finding that the plaintiff was not
disabled. The ALJ sufficiently explained his conclusions.
the ALJ committed no reversible error and remand is not
appropriate. Plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings
must be ...