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Hudson v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

August 20, 2019

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



         Gary Lewis Hudson appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act. Upon consideration of the briefs submitted by both parties, the record evidence, and the relevant statutory and case law, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS the Commissioner's final decision be AFFIRMED, this civil action be CLOSED, and a final judgment be ENTERED in favor of the Commissioner.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff received Supplemental Social Security income benefits as a child based on the Social Security Administration's decision on February 1, 2011, which determined disability as of August 13, 1996 for borderline intellectual functioning. Tr. (“R.”), pp. 25, 82-84. Because Plaintiff turned eighteen on August 25, 2011, the Social Security Administration redetermined whether Plaintiff was disabled under the rules for determining disability in adults pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.987. R. 82-84. Plaintiff completed a Disability Report on February 1, 2012 as an adult. R. 197-202. Plaintiff has an eleventh-grade education, has not obtained his GED, but has attended some classes in an attempt to obtain his GED. R. 55, 198. Plaintiff has never worked. R. 198, 203-08. On April 18, 2012, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's redetermination of supplemental benefits as an adult. Id.

         On April 24, 2012, Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the April 18th redetermination, and on May 22, 2014, a Disability Hearing Officer issued a Report of Disability Hearing, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. R. 92-112. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, R. 116-19, and the ALJ held a hearing on June 21, 2016. R. 48-79. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, represented by attorney William R. McCracken, Eva M. Williams, Plaintiff's mother, and Carl Weldon, a Vocational Expert (“VE”). Id. On August 11, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 22-47.

         On October 21, 2016, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision from the Appeals Council (“AC”), and on October 11, 2017, the AC granted Plaintiff's request for review. R. 177-88. In the AC's October 11th correspondence with Plaintiff, the AC notified Plaintiff it was (1) including the additional severe impairment of Asperger's Disorder to the ALJ's determination; (2) evaluating Plaintiff's medical impairments under the newly revised regulatory criteria of Listing 12.00, revised on January 17, 2017; (3) allowing Plaintiff an opportunity to provide a statement or additional information; and (4) planning to still find Plaintiff is not disabled. R. 182-88. Plaintiff provided a statement, R. 342-44, which the AC considered, but on February 1, 2018, the AC issued an unfavorable decision. R. 4-9.

         Applying the sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 and adopting the ALJ's “findings or conclusions regarding whether [Plaintiff] is disabled, ” the AC found:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the cessation date of April 30, 2012.
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: borderline intellectual functioning, depression, schizoaffective disorder, and Asperger's disorder, but does not have an impairment or combination of impairments which is listed in, or which is medically equal to an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
3. The claimant's combination of impairments results in the following limitations on his ability to perform work-related activities: a full range of work at all exertional levels but with nonexertional limitations that the claimant can do simple one to two step tasks on a sustained basis for eight hours a day, five days a week; the claimant would require a low stress work environment, non-production work with no fast paced work like an assembly line; and the claimant should have no public contact and only occasional contact with co-workers.
4. If the claimant were capable of performing the full range of work at all exertional levels, Medical-Vocational Rule 204.00 would direct a finding of “not disabled.” However, the claimant's additional limitations significantly erode the occupational base for work at all exertional levels. Therefore, based upon vocational expert testimony regarding a significant number of jobs the claimant could perform, we adopt the finding of the [ALJ] that the claimant was not disabled by applying the framework of Medical-Vocational Rule 204.00.

R. 4-9.

         On April 5, 2018, Plaintiff filed this civil action requesting reversal or remand of the adverse decision of the ALJ, as modified by the AC. (Doc. no. 1.) Plaintiff argues the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because (1) the ALJ erred by finding Plaintiff did not meet the Medical Listing 12.05C in effect at the time of the ALJ's decision; (2) the ALJ gave great weight to the initial medical evaluations even though these evaluations did not consider subsequently admitted medical evidence of Plaintiff; and (3) the AC did not apply the same version of the Medical Listings as the ALJ. See doc. no. 11 (“Pl.'s Br.”). The Commissioner maintains the decision to deny Plaintiff benefits is supported by substantial evidence and should therefore be affirmed. See doc. no. 14.

         II. ...

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