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Moore v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

September 14, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Frank D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Walter Lee Moore's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) filed on September 19, 2016, and Defendant Acting Commission of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Commissioner”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 15) filed on December 16, 2016. Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Social Security Income (“SSI”).

         Having reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative record, and applicable authority, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11), DENIES the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 15), and REMANDS the Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for Title II and Title XVI disability benefits on April 14, 2012, alleging disability (Tr. 211). After his application was denied initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 124, 133, 143, 151), Plaintiff requested a hearing (Tr. 161). The hearing commenced on September 18, 2014, and on December 29, 2014, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 13).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 32). The ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date and that he had severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, arthritis, chronic hepatitis C infection, migraine headaches, depression, and polysubstance abuse (Tr. 18-19); however, those impairments did not meet or medically equal a per se disabled medical listing under 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (Tr. 22-24). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(c), 416.967(c) with the following limitations:

[Plaintiff] is restricted from any overhead lifting with his left arm; and he is further limited to jobs performing the simple, routine, repetitive tasks of unskilled work in an environment requiring no interaction with the public.

(Tr. 24). Nevertheless, in response to a hypothetical that factored in the above limitations, the vocational expert (“VE”) testified that Plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work (Tr. 30-21) and that Plaintiff could perform other jobs in the national economy (Tr. 31-32). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled, as defined under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 32).

         Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, and the Appeals Council denied the request for review on March 17, 2016. (Tr. 1). Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and now appeals pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Plaintiff claims that the ALJ's decision is not based on proper legal standards and is not supported by substantial evidence.


         Pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3), this Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is limited to: (1) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006), and (2) whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision. Bird v. Astrue, 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012).

         The court may not re-weigh conflicting evidence or make credibility determinations because "it is not within the province of a reviewing court to determine the weight of the evidence, nor is it the court's function to substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary if his decision is supported by substantial evidence." Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is "more than a scintilla and [it] must do more than create a suspicion of the existence of a fact to be established. It means such relevant evidence that as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Smith v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).

         Remand is appropriate if the ALJ's analysis is extremely deficient and “frustrate[s] meaningful review.” Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th Cir. 2015). Therefore, when a reviewing court is “left to guess [at] how the ALJ arrived at his conclusions, ” remand is necessary. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 636.

         III. ...

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