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Moore v. Astrue

October 20, 2010


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gruender, Circuit Judge

Submitted: September 23, 2010

Before GRUENDER, ARNOLD, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

Sebastian Moore appeals the decision of the district court*fn1 affirming the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security to deny his applications for supplemental security income. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm.


Moore, who was a minor when his original applications for benefits were filed, has been diagnosed since childhood with various mental and behavioral impairments. He also suffers from aphakia, the absence of the lens, in his left eye. The extensive record in this case shows that Moore was frequently in trouble at school for truancy, alcohol and marijuana use, fighting, vandalism, and general defiance of authority. Socially, he was characterized as having a "poor attitude" toward other students. On the other hand, he participated in high school team sports such as football and basketball. He received a regular high school diploma with the assistance of special resource classes. After high school, he continued to play basketball with friends, and he participated in church activities. He also attended college, but his studies were interrupted by his arrest and incarceration for cocaine distribution.

As discussed in more detail below, Moore was evaluated by psychologists on several occasions throughout his childhood and early adulthood. On a multitude of IQ tests, he scored within the range of 71 to 84. This range is characterized as "borderline intellectual functioning" and is considered to be one step above mild retardation. Occasionally, he received a component IQ score in the high 60s, a range associated with mild retardation. Different practitioners rated various aspects of Moore's ability to function in a workplace as suffering anywhere from "slight" to "marked" impairment.

Moore's mother filed applications for supplemental security income on Moore's behalf in 1994 and in 1998. Both applications were denied by the Commissioner. The district court vacated and remanded the Commissioner's decision on the 1994 application due to the absence of certain exhibits from the record, Moore v. Barnhart, No. 98-cv-63 (E.D. Ark. Jul. 18, 2002), and vacated and remanded the Commissioner's decision on the 1998 application on the agreement of the parties to develop the medical record, Moore v. Barnhart, No. 01-cv-152 (E.D. Ark. Oct. 7, 2002). The Commissioner eventually consolidated the two applications. After conducting a hearing in November 2007, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") denied both applications again, resulting in the decision on appeal here. Because Moore reached eighteen years of age in March 2003, the ALJ denied benefits under the childhood disability standard prior to March 2003 and under the adult disability standard thereafter. As Moore does not appeal the denial of childhood benefits, we address the decision only as it pertains to adult benefits.

With regard to the adult disability standard, the ALJ applied the familiar five-step process prescribed by the Social Security regulations for supplemental security income. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The ALJ first found that Moore had not engaged in substantial gainful activity. See § 416.920(a)(4)(i). The ALJ also found that Moore had the severe impairments of aphakia in the left eye, borderline intellectual functioning, learning disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and adjustment disorder with depressed mood, but that these impairments did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. See § 416.920(a)(4)(ii), (iii). The ALJ determined Moore's residual functional capacity, see § 416.920(a)(4)(iv), (e), to include the full range of work at all exertional levels, with the following non-exertional limitations: must avoid work that requires very good vision; has sufficient visual acuity to handle and work with large objects and avoid ordinary workplace hazards; able to handle simple job instructions; able to interact with supervisors, co-workers, and the general public on an infrequent basis; able to adapt to infrequent work changes; and capable of performing basic mental demands of simple, routine, and repetitive work activity at the unskilled task level. Finally, the ALJ found that Moore had no past relevant work, but that jobs existed in the regional and national economy that an individual with Moore's residual functional capacity could perform. See §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv), (v), and 416.960(c). In that final step, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert that a hypothetical individual with the limitations identified in Moore's residual functional capacity could perform occupations listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT"), such as Hand Packager and Laundry Worker. As a result, the ALJ denied benefits, and the Commissioner affirmed, making the ALJ's decision the official decision of the Commissioner.

On appeal to the district court, with respect to the denial of adult benefits, Moore argued that (1) the ALJ erred in failing to find that Moore met a certain disability listing based on mental retardation; (2) the ALJ's hypothetical to the vocational expert misstated Moore's residual functional capacity by failing to incorporate certain limitations found by two examining psychologists, Dr. Maddock and Dr. DeRoeck; and (3) the DOT descriptions of the jobs identified by the vocational expert were in conflict with certain limitations in the hypothetical. The district court held that the Commissioner's decision was supported by substantial evidence. Now, on appeal to this Court, Moore only renews his challenges to the hypothetical and the jobs identified by the vocational expert.


"We review de novo a district court decision upholding the denial of social security benefits." Lauer v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 700, 702 (8th Cir. 2001). "Our role on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040, 1042 (8th Cir. 2007) (quotation omitted). "Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. "Our review extends beyond examining the record to find substantial evidence in support of the ALJ's decision; we also consider evidence in the record that fairly detracts from that decision." Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007). Nevertheless, if it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the ALJ's findings, we must affirm the ALJ's decision. Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 789 (8th Cir. 2005).

First, Moore contends that the medical opinions of Dr. Maddock and Dr. DeRoeck, the only two psychologists to examine him as an adult, demand a finding that he is in incapable of interacting with supervisors, co-workers, and the general public. The ALJ's residual functional capacity finding stated that Moore could interact with supervisors, co-workers, and the general public on an "infrequent basis." Although the ALJ must consider all relevant evidence, rather than just evidence from medical professionals, the record must contain at least some medical evidence to support the ALJ's determination of residual functional capacity. Lauer, 245 F.3d at 703-04.

Dr. Maddock examined Moore in June 2003 and rated Moore's ability to "Deal with Public" and "Interact with Supervisor(s)" as "None," and his ability to "Relate to Co-Workers" as "Poor." However, Dr. DeRoeck examined Moore in May 2005 and concluded that Moore had only "slight" limitations in his ability to interact with the public, supervisors, and co-workers. Dr. DeRoeck examined Moore again in January 2007, while Moore was in prison, and noted an increased number of "altercations in social settings" and decreased "judgment" in social settings. At that time, Dr. DeRoeck found "moderate" limitations in Moore's ability to interact with supervisors and co-workers, and "marked" limitations in Moore's ability to interact with the public. On the January 2007 evaluation form, a "moderate" limitation is defined as "more than a slight limitation in this area but the individual is still able to function satisfactorily," while a "marked" limitation is defined as "a substantial loss in the ability to effectively function." Notably, the evaluation form also provided a designation of "extreme," defined as "no useful ability to function in this area," but this designation was not selected by Dr. DeRoeck. Although these medical ...

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