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Moore v. Saul

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

January 8, 2020

JONATHAN ERIC MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Kenneth D. Bell, United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 9) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 10), as well as the parties' briefs and exhibits. Plaintiff, through counsel, seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on his application for Title II benefits.

         Having carefully reviewed and considered the written arguments, administrative record, and applicable authority, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Defendant's decision to deny Plaintiff's Social Security benefits is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court will DENY Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment; GRANT Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment; and AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Jonathan Eric Moore applied for Title II benefits on June 22, 2015 (Tr. 172-78).[2] His application was denied at the initial and reconsideration levels. (Tr. 30, 80-91, 92-103). After conducting a hearing on November 6, 2017, Administrative Law Judge Alice Jordan (“ALJ”) denied his application in a decision dated March 7, 2018. (Tr. 30-39). Moore then filed for a review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Counsel (AC), which denied review on January 15, 2019. (Tr. 1-8). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Moore has requested judicial review in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

         The ALJ used the required five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration to determine if Moore was disabled[3] during the relevant period.[4] At step one, the ALJ found that Moore had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 12, 2015, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 32, Finding 2). At step two, the ALJ found that Moore had the following severe impairments: “affective disorder and schizophrenia and other psychotic disorder.” (Tr. 32, Finding 3). The ALJ considered Moore's impairments under the listings in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526 at step three and found that they did not meet or medically equal any listing. (Tr. 33, Finding 4).

         At step four, the ALJ found that Moore had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with the following nonexertional limitations:

[M]aintain concentration, persistence and pace for two-hour periods for simple, routine, repetitive tasks and instructions and frequently interact with the general public with no ongoing, constant relationship with the public.

(Tr. 34, Finding 5). Relying on the vocational expert's (VE) testimony, the ALJ further found that Moore could perform his past relevant work as a delivery route truck driver and stock clerk. (Tr. 38, Finding 6). And finally, the ALJ considered Moore's age, education, work experience, and RFC, and concluded that he could perform other jobs that exist in significant number in the national economy, such as hand packager, kitchen helper, and food service worker. (Tr. 38-39).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3), limits this Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner to: (1) whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971); and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992) (per curiam). The District Court does not review a final decision of the Commissioner de novo. Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986); King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir. 1979); Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).

         The Social Security Act provides that “[t]he findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). In Smith v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)), the Fourth Circuit defined “substantial evidence” thus:

Substantial evidence has been defined as being “more than a scintilla and do[ing] more than creat[ing] a suspicion of the existence of a fact to be established. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind ...

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