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Moss v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

May 22, 2019

JACOB L. MOSS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          SUSAN K. LEE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Jacob L. Moss (“Plaintiff”) brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying him disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Each party has moved for judgment [Docs. 13 & 15] and filed supporting briefs [Docs. 14 & 16]. This matter is now ripe. For the reasons stated below: (1) Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings [Doc. 13] will be DENIED; (2) the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 15] will be GRANTED; and (3) the decision of the Commissioner will be AFFIRMED.

         I. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         According to the administrative record [Doc. 8 (“Tr.”)], Plaintiff filed his application for DIB on July 11, 2016, alleging disability beginning September 10, 2011. Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration at the agency level. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held on June 26, 2017. A supplemental hearing was held on September 20, 2017. On November 7, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act at any time between the alleged onset date through the date of the decision. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff timely filed the instant action.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Education and Employment Background

         Plaintiff was born July 27, 1987, making him a younger person as defined by the relevant Social Security Administration (“SSA”) regulation, at all relevant times. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c). He has an associate's degree in criminal justice, and is able to communicate in English. He has past relevant work as a sales clerk.

         B. Medical Records

         In his July 2016 Disability Report, Plaintiff alleged disability due to post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), anxiety, traumatic brain injury, arthritis in back, and history of ACL repair (Tr. 241). While there is no need to summarize the medical records herein, the relevant records have been reviewed and will be discussed as necessary below.

         C. Hearing Testimony

         At the hearing before the ALJ on June 26, 2017, Plaintiff testified, after which the ALJ ordered Plaintiff to attend a psychological consultative exam and continued the hearing. At the second hearing held September 20, 2017, Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney at both hearings. The Court has carefully reviewed the transcript of both hearings (Tr. 35-87).

         III. ELIGIBILITY AND THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         A. Eligibility

         “The Social Security Act defines a disability as the ‘inability 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 12 months.'” Schmiedebusch v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 536 Fed.Appx. 637, 646 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)); see also Parks v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 413 Fed.Appx. 856, 862 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). A claimant is disabled “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.” Parks, 413 Fed.Appx. at 862 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)). The SSA determines eligibility for disability benefits by following a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The five-step process provides:

1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment-i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities-the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled.

Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). The claimant bears the burden to show the extent of his impairments, but at step five, the Commissioner bears the burden to show that, notwithstanding those impairments, there are jobs the claimant is capable of performing. See Ealy v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 594 F.3d 504, 512-13 (6th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).

         B. The ALJ's Findings

         The ALJ found Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements on December 31, 2016. At step one of the five-step process, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity between his alleged onset date and his date last insured. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease (“DJD”) in the left wrist and both knees, osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine, mild degenerative disc disease (“DDD”) of the cervical spine, cognitive disorder, anxiety, and PTSD. The ALJ also noted Plaintiff had a history of drug abuse, but found it did not result in any limitations and was therefore non-severe. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

         Next, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c), except Plaintiff was limited to frequent postural activities; he could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he would need to “avoid concentrated exposure to noise, vibration, and hazards;” and he was limited to “simple unskilled work with infrequent changes in routine.” (Tr. 19).

         At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was incapable of performing his past relevant work. At step five, however, the ALJ found Plaintiff was capable of performing other work existing in significant numbers in Tennessee and in the national economy, including work as a janitor and as a cafeteria worker. These findings led to the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined ...


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