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Knoderer v. Saul

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

December 19, 2019

John William Knoderer, Plaintiff,
Andrew Saul [1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).[2] Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”), denying Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”).[3] For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed.


         In February 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB alleging an onset of disability date of February 8, 2006. [R. 165-66.] The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration (“the Administration”). [R. 111-15; 117-21.] Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) and, on November 3, 2016, ALJ Edward T. Morriss conducted a de novo hearing on Plaintiff's claims. [R. 46-70.] Plaintiff chose to appear and testify without the assistance of an attorney or other representative. [R. 48-49.]

         The ALJ issued a decision on June 9, 2017, finding Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act (“the Act”). [R. 33-39.] At Step 1, [4] the ALJ found that Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Act on December 31, 2009, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of February 8, 2006, through his date last insured of December 31, 2009. [R. 35-36, Findings 1 & 2.] At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had medically determinable impairments of heart failure and ADHD. [R. 36, Finding 3.] At Step 3, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limited his ability to perform basic work related activities for 12 consecutive months and, therefore, Plaintiff did not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments. [R. 36, Finding 4.] Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Act, at any time from February 8, 2006, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2009, the date last insured. [R. 38, Finding 5.]

         Plaintiff requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision, but the Council declined review. [R. 1-5.] Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review on November 8, 2018. [Doc. 1.] As noted, Plaintiff is proceeding pro se in seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision.


         Plaintiff does not allege any error on the part of the ALJ. Instead, Plaintiff submitted a pro se brief in which he makes the following arguments, provided verbatim in part, in an effort to obtain review of the ALJ's decision:

         3. Exhibits in the Defendant's possession since 2014 show that some of the Plaintiff's disabilities did indeed exist before 2009. In no particular order:

a. Asperger's (Autism), ADHD, and other disorders were diagnosed in the 1990's by Dr. Dale R. Jordan, Learning Disabilities Specialist for the State of Arkansas Department of Adult Education. He stated that this was a lifelong disability. Plaintiff did not realize he had these disabilities until he was 42 years old, but recognizes how these disabilities have affected him all his life. Disabilities confirmed by forensic psychiatrist in 2005.
b. Plaintiffs Heart Disability, diagnosed in the 1960's to have been present since his early years, was reported by Dr. Baumgartner to the Selective Service in a “confidential” letter soon after 1969.
c. Plaintiff did not know about his Lack of Coordination diagnosis (parental secrets?) until Dr. Baumgartner reported it to the Selective Service in that same “confidential” letter. Plaintiff learned of that diagnosis when S. S. personnel handed him “his file” containing everything they knew about him to carry from doctor to doctor and from test station to test station.
d. Plaintiff was given 4F status circa 1970 based on these disabilities.
e. These disabilities have afflicted Plaintiff virtually his entire life.
f. The psychiatrist at the Arkansas D.O.C. also confirmed Plaintiff's emotional disability (Autism/Asperger's). Psychiatrists would certainly agree that this grew into a sexual disability which prevents Plaintiff from working where his Master's Degree trained him to work.
g. The eight years that Plaintiff was unable to continue his work programming computers also turned into a disability. Eight years without programming makes it impossible to catch up with what you've missed. Reading computer magazines and playing with graphing calculator is not the same thing.
h. In many states, Social Security accepts incarceration for more than five years as a disability.
i. Plaintiff affirms all statements made in the original Paragraph III.

[Doc. 25 at 1-3.] Plaintiff seeks to have the Court overturn the ALJ's decision and grant the relief requested. [Id. at 3.]

         The Commissioner, on the other hand, argues that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. [Doc. 28.] The Commissioner also notes that, even if Plaintiff had demonstrated disability during the relevant period, he was incarcerated for the entire relevant period and was categorically ineligible to receive payment of disability benefits for his period of incarceration. [Id. at 10.]


         The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla-i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966) (citing Woolridge v. Celebrezze, 214 F.Supp. 686, 687 (S.D. W.Va. 1963)) (“Substantial evidence, it has been held, is evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance. If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is ‘substantial evidence.'”).

         Where conflicting evidence “allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the [Commissioner] (or the [Commissioner's] designate, the ALJ), ” not on the reviewing court. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996); see also Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991) (stating that where the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the court will affirm, even if the reviewer would have reached a contrary result as finder of fact and even if the reviewer finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision). Thus, it is not within the province of a reviewing court to determine the weight of the evidence, nor is it the court's function to substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner so long as the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Bird v. Comm'r, 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012); Laws, 368 F.2d at 642; Snyder v. Ribicoff, 307 F.2d 518, 520 (4th Cir. 1962).

         The reviewing court will reverse the Commissioner's decision on plenary review, however, if the decision applies incorrect law or fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner properly applied the law. Myers v. Califano,611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th Cir. 1980); see also Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994). Where the Commissioner's decision “is in clear disregard of the overwhelming weight of the evidence, Congress has empowered the courts to modify or reverse the [Commissioner's] decision ‘with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.'” Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157, 1158 (4th Cir. 1971) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Remand is unnecessary where “the record does not contain substantial ...

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