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Burton v. Saul

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

September 5, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.


          Kenneth D. Bell United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's “Motion for Summary Judgment” (Doc. No. 14) and Defendant's “Motion for Summary Judgment” (Doc. No. 17), as well as the parties' briefs and exhibits. Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on his application for Supplemental Social Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).

         Having reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative record, and applicable authority, and 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 decision is AFFIRMED.


         Plaintiff's DIB and SSI applications filed on August 20, 2012 alleged disability onset of June 22, 1983, and were denied initially on December 11, 2012, and, upon reconsideration, on January 31, 2013. (Tr[2]. 26). Plaintiff later amended his alleged disability onset date to August 12, 2011, when vocational rehabilitation did an evaluation. (Tr. 26, 63). Plaintiff timely requested an administrative hearing, which was held on October 28, 2014. (Tr. 41-64). An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decision denying benefits was made on January 28, 2015.

         Plaintiff appealed to Defendant's Appeals Council (AC), which on July 27, 2016 denied Plaintiff's request for review, thereby causing the ALJ's decision to become the “final decision” of the Commissioner. (Tr. 3-6). On November 5, 2018, the AC reviewed additional evidence, including a Medicaid disability decision, and concluded no change in its prior action was warranted. (Tr. 416). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of this decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed the present action on September 28, 2016.

         After reviewing Plaintiff's record and conducting a hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not suffer from a disability as defined in the Social Security Act (SSA). (Tr.35). In reaching her conclusion, the ALJ used the five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration for determining if a person is disabled. The five steps are:

(1) whether claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity-if yes, not disabled;
(2) whether claimant has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment, or combination of impairments that meet the duration requirement in § 404.1509-if no, not disabled;
(3) whether claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listings in appendix 1 and meets the duration requirement-if yes, disabled;
(4) whether claimant has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform his or her past relevant work-if yes, not disabled; and
(5) whether considering claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience he or she can make an adjustment to other work-if yes, not disabled.

See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The claimant has the burden of production and proof in the first four steps. Pearson v. Colvin, 810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015). However, at the fifth step, the Commissioner must prove that the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy despite his limitations. Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.960(c)(2) (explaining that the Commissioner has the burden to prove at the fifth step “that other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that [the claimant] can do”). In this case, the ALJ determined at the fourth step that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 34, Finding 6 and Tr. 61).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 12, 2011. (Tr. 28). The ALJ found Plaintiff to have the following severe impairments: “borderline intellectual functioning, polysubstance abuse, and a personality disorder. (Tr. 28, Finding 3). The ALJ also found, with explanation, that Plaintiff has the non-severe impairment of hypoxic/static encephalopathy. (Tr. 29). The ALJ determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in the Administration's regulations. (Tr. 29-31). The ALJ examined the evidence of Plaintiff's impairments and made a finding as to the Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). In pertinent part, the ALJ found the Plaintiff:

has the [RFC] to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but… is limited to doing routine tasks and to following short, simple, non-detailed instructions, with no work requiring a production rate or demand pace. The claimant should have frequent but not continuous contact or interactions with co-workers, supervisors, and the public. The claimant should avoid work environments dealing with crisis situations, complex decision ...

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