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Rowe v. Saul

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

November 12, 2019

STEPHEN ROWE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER

          KENNETH D. BELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Stephen Rowe's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 15), as well as the parties' briefs and exhibits. Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on his application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income.

         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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Rowe filed an application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on January 23, 2012, alleging disability beginning December 4, 2010. These applications were eventually denied by an Administrative Law Judge in a decision dated January 10, 2013, which Rowe unsuccessfully appealed to the Appeals Council. Following an appeal to the United States District Court for Western District of North Carolina, the District Judge remanded the case to the Commissioner for further consideration in an order dated December 4, 2014. In an order dated January 30, 2015, the Appeals Council vacated the January 10, 2013 Administrative Law Judge decision and remanded the case to an Administrative Law Judge for additional proceedings, instructing the ALJ to consolidate the initial applications with subsequent applications that Rowe had filed for Titles II and XVI benefits in April 2014.

         Rowe then had a hearing before ALJ Valorie Stefanelli (the “ALJ”) on January 7, 2016, who denied the consolidated applications in a decision on April 28, 2016. (Tr. 435-456). Rowe then filed for a review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council, which denied review on April 28, 2018. (Tr. 410-413). The ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Rowe has now requested judicial review in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         For the reasons stated below, the Court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

         The ALJ used the required five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration to determine if Rowe had a “disability” under the law during the relevant period.[2] The Fourth Circuit has described the five-steps as follows:

[The ALJ] asks whether the claimant: (1) worked during the purported period of disability; (2) has an impairment that is appropriately severe and meets the duration requirement; (3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment and meets the duration requirement; (4) can return to her past relevant work; and (5) if not, can perform any other work in the national economy.

Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 290-91 (4th Cir. 2013) (paraphrasing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). 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 her limitations. See 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”).

         The ALJ found at step one of the sequential evaluation that Plaintiff had not engaged in SGA during the period from his onset date of December 4, 2010 through the date of her decision.[3](Tr. 456). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had severe, medically determinable impairments, specifically, “right shoulder degenerative joint disease, unspecified anxiety disorder rule out substance induced mood disorder and substance use disorder (20 CFR 04.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” (Tr. 441).

         The ALJ then found at step three that Plaintiff did not have any impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the conditions in the Listing of Impairments at 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (Tr. 443-444). In so concluding, the ALJ discussed in detail why Rowe's impairments did not meet the requirements of Listing 1.00B2b (regarding the disease in his right shoulder, “this condition does not result in an inability to perform fine and gross movements effectively”) or Listings 12.06 and 12.09 related to his mental impairments (the mental impairments did not “result in at least one extreme or two marked limitations in a broad area of functioning;” rather, Rowe had “mild” or “moderate” limitations in several areas. Further, he did not show “repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.”). (Tr. 443-444).

         After step three, the ALJ determined Rowe's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and discussed at length why he came to that conclusion. (Tr. 444-454). The ALJ found that Rowe had the RFC to perform light work, as ...


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