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Taylor v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 6, 2016

CARLA CECILIA TAYLOR, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant,

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR REMAND

          A.David Copprethite United States Magistrate Judge

         On July 28, 2015, Carla Cecilia Taylor ("Plaintiff'') petitioned this court to review the Social Security Administration's ("SSA") final decision to deny her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). See ECF No. 1 (''the Complaint"). After consideration of the Complaint and each parties cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 16, 19, 21), the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). In addition, for the reasons that follow. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 19) is DENIED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) is DENIED, and Plaintiff's alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 16) is GRANTED. The Court REMANDS this matter to the Social Security Administration Commissioner for further consideration, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g).

         Case Background

         On June 6. 2011. Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning on January 16. 2011. That claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration on September 21, 2011 and May 3. 2012, respectively. Subsequently, on June 25. 2012, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing. On December 18, 2013, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALT''). Following that hearing, on January 23, 2014, the ALJ rendered a decision determining that Plaintiff was "not under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, at any time from January 16, 2011. the alleged onset date, through June 30, 2013, the date last insured (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(f))." ECF No. 13 at 33. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested review of the decision on March 25, 2014 and, on June 9. 2015 the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision. Thus, the decision rendered by the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. See C.F.R. § 416.1481; see also Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07(2000).

         On July 28, 2015, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.[1] On December 8, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and, in the alternative, motion for remand. On March 29, 2016. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. On April 12, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendant's Motions for Summary Judgment. This matter is now fully briefed and the Court has reviewed Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgement and alternative motion for remand as well as Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's Response to such.

         Disability Determinations and Burden of Proof

         In order to be eligible for DIB, a claimant must establish that he is under disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The term "disability." for purposes of the Social Security Act. is defined as the "[i]nability 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 has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A): 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505, 416.905. A claimant shall be determined to be under disability where "his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such a 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[.]" 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         In determining whether a claimant has a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act, the Commissioner follows the five-step evaluation process outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 24 (2003).The evaluation process is sequential, meaning that. *'[i]f at any step a finding of disability or non-disability can be made, the [Commissioner] will not review the claim further." Barnhart v. Thomas. 540 U.S. at 24; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).

         At step one, the Commissioner considers the claimant's work activity to determine if the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i). 404.1520(b), 416.920(a)(4)(i), 416.920(b).

         At step two, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant has a "severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment [or combination of impairments] that meets the duration requirement[.]" 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 404.1520(c), 416.920(a)(4)(h), 416.920(c).

         At step three, the Commissioner considers the medical severity of the impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment meets or equals one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the Code of Federal Regulations, then the claimant is considered disabled, regardless of the claimant's age. education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 404.1520(d). 416.920(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(d); see Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 291 (4th Cir. 2013).

         At step four, the Commissioner will assess the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") to determine the claimant's ability to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can still perform past relevant work, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(e), 416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(e).

         At steps one through four of the evaluation, the claimant has the burden of proof. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see Bowen v. Yuckeru 482 U.S. 137, 146 (1987); see also Radford, 734 F.3d at 291. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove: (1) that there is other work that the claimant can do, given the claimant's age. education, work experience, and RFC (as determined at step four), and; (2) that such alternative work exists in significant numbers in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v). 416.920(a)(4)(v): See Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472-73 (4th Cir. 2012); See also Walls v. Barnhart. 296 F.3d 287, 290 (4th Cir. 2002). If the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g)(1), 404.1560(c), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant cannot perform other work, then the claimant is disabled. Id.

         ALJ Determination

         In the instant matter, the ALJ performed the sequential evaluation. At step one. the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of January 16, 2011 through her date last insured of June 30, 2013. ECF No.13 at 27. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments through the date last insured: degenerative disc disease; diabetes mellitus; and obesity. Id. At step three, the ALJ further determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled ...


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