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Montgomery v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 5, 2016

ERIC MONTGOMERY Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Charles B. Day United States Magistrate Judge.

         Eric Montgomery ("Plaintiff") brought this action under Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's claim for a period of Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Plaintiff's Motion") (ECF No. 10) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Commissioner's Motion") (ECF No. 11). The Court has reviewed the motions, related memoranda, and the applicable law. No hearing is deemed necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons presented below, the Court hereby GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion, DENIES Commissioner's Motion, and REMANDS this matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Procedural Background

         On December 20, 2011 Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning December 5, 2011. R. 15. The claim was initially denied on June 12, 2012, and denied again upon reconsideration on November 26, 2012. Id. On November 30, 2012, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Id. Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing on February 11, 2014. Id. On March 6, 2014, in a written decision, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. R. 22. On April 8, 2014, Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision. R. 10. On April 8, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. R. 1-3.

         II. Standard of Review

         On appeal, the Court has the power to affirm, modify, or reverse the decision of the ALJ "with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2015). The Court must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and the ALJ applied the correct law. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2015) ("The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive."); see also Russell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 440 Fed.App'x 163, 164 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990)). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). "It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id.; see also Shively v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984) (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)) (internal quotation marks omitted) ("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.").

         The Court does not review the evidence presented below de novo, nor does the Court "determine the weight of the evidence" or "substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary if his decision is supported by substantial evidence." Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (citations omitted). The ALJ, not the Court, has the responsibility to make findings of fact and resolve evidentiary conflicts. Id. (citations omitted). If the ALJ's factual finding, however, "was reached by means of an improper standard or misapplication of the law, " then that finding is not binding on the Court. Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted).

         The Court shall find a person legally disabled under Title II if he is unable "to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a) (2012). The Code of Federal Regulations outlines a five-step process that the Commissioner must follow to determine if a claimant meets this definition:

1) Determine whether the plaintiff is "doing substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R.§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If he is doing such activity, he is not disabled. If he is not doing such activity, proceed to step two.
2) Determine whether the plaintiff has a "severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the duration requirement in § 404.1509, or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement." 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If he does not have such impairment or combination of impairments, he is not disabled. If he does meet these requirements, proceed to step three.
3) Determine whether the plaintiff has an impairment that "meets or equals one of [the C.F.R.'s] listings in appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration requirement." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If he does have such impairment, he is disabled. If he does not, proceed to step four.
4) Determine whether the plaintiff retains the "residual functional capacity" ("RFC") to perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If he can perform such work, he is not disabled. If he cannot, proceed to step five.
5) Determine whether the plaintiff can perform other work, considering his RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If he can perform other work, ...

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