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White v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 11, 2016

MELONY DIONNE WHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          A. DAVID COPPERTHITE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On March 17, 2015, Melony Dionne White ("Plaintiff') petitioned this court to review the Social Security Administration's ("SSA") final decision to deny her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). See ECF No. 1 ("the Complaint"). After consideration of the Complaint and each parties cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 20, 21, 22), the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). In addition, for the reasons that follow. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 20) is DENIED. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 21) is GRANTED, and the decision of the Social Security Administration is AFFIRMED.

         Case Background

         On June 22, 2009, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff additionally filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. In both claims. Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on February 17, 2009. Both claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration on February 18, 2010 and August 16, 2010, respectively. Subsequently, on October 6. 2010. Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing. On May 13, 2011, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge. Following that hearing, on July 29, 2011, the ALJ rendered a decision determining that Plaintiff "has not been under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, at any time from February 17, 2009, through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(0)." ECF No. 14 at 175. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested review of the decision and, on February 24, 2012, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for another hearing. On August 7. 2013, the second hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On October 31, 2013, the ALJ rendered a decision denying Plaintiffs claims for DIB and SSI. Thereafter. Plaintiff requested review of the decision on December 9, 2013, and on December 17. 2014, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision. Thus, the decision rendered by the ALJ at the second hearing 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 March 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.[1] On January 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. On March 21, 2016, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. On March 30, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendant's Motions for Summary Judgment. This matter is now fully briefed and the Court has reviewed Plaintiffs Motion for Summary' Judgment as well as Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiffs 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 "[inability 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)(H), 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)(ii), 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. Yuckert, 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 (4* Cir. 2012); See also Walls v. Barnhart 296 F.3d 287, 290 (4''' 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 ...


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