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Mooney v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Eastern Division

August 13, 2019



         Plaintiff Antwon T. Mooney has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his claim for supplemental security income. Both parties have submitted appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision.[1]

         I. Background:

         In 2015, Mr. Mooney alleged inability to work because he was a slow learner and he had a rod in his left leg from a gunshot wound. (Tr. 20, 39, 41-42, 54, 181) After a hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision denying Mr. Mooney's claim. (Tr. 20-31) In February 2018, the Appeals Council denied review, and Mr. Mooney appealed to this Court. (Tr. 6-10) (Docket entry #11)

         Mr. Mooney was 24 years old at the time of the hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. 40) He had completed the eleventh grade in special education classes. (Tr. 30, 42, 182) He lived with his mother (Tr. 40) and had no past work experience (Tr. 42-43).

         II. The ALJ's Decision:

         The ALJ[2] determined that Mr. Mooney had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 31, 2015.[3] His joint dysfunction and intellectual disability were both deemed severe impairments; but, he did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met a listed impairment. (Tr. 22-26) The ALJ further found that Mr. Mooney's allegations regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were not entirely credible because they were not consistent with the medical evidence. (Tr. 27)

         Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that, during the relevant time period, Mr. Mooney retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) for sedentary work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed. “Incidental” in this context would mean that interpersonal contact would require limited interaction, such as meeting and greeting the public, answering simple questions, accepting payment and making change. The complexity of tasks assigned to Mr. Mooney would have to be learned by demonstration or repetition within 30 days, with few variables, and with little required judgment. Supervision would have to be simple, direct and concrete. (Tr. 26-30)

         The ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (VE) to find at step 5 to find, based on Mr. Mooney's age, education, work experience and RFC, that he could perform assembly and inspector jobs available in the national economy. (Tr. 30) The VE identified fishing reel assembler, described in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) 732.684-062, as an unskilled, sedentary job that Mr. Mooney could perform. (Tr. 31) The ALJ determined, therefore, that Mr. Mooney was not disabled. (Tr. 31)

         III. Discussion:

         The Court's function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether the decision is free of legal error. Chismarich v. Berryhill, 888 F.3d 978, 979 (8th Cir. 2018); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence in this context means relevant evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id. (citing Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010) (other citation omitted). Substantial evidence on the record as a whole means that the court must take into account record evidence that both supports and detracts from the ALJ's decision. Stanton v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 899 F.3d 555, 557 (8th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). Reversal is not warranted, however, “merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.” Tilley v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 675, 679 (8th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         A. Issue on Appeal

         Mr. Mooney raises one issue on appeal. He claims that the ALJ erred by failing to resolve a conflict between the assigned RFC, the VE's testimony, and the DOT. He cites Social Security Ruling 00-4p in support of his argument. (#11) More specifically, he complains that the ALJ erred by relying on the VE's testimony that someone with his RFC could perform the job of fishing reel inspector, which has a special vocational preparation (SVP) level of two, even though he was limited to performing jobs with an SVP level of one. The Commissioner contends that substantial evidence supports the decision that Mr. Mooney was not disabled, because the ALJ properly relied on the VE's testimony.

         B. ...

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