United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
Charles B. Day United States Magistrate Judge.
Walker ("Plaintiff") brought this action under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) seeking
judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration
("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied
Plaintiff's claim for a period of Disability Insurance
Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social
Security Act and for Supplemental Security Income Benefits
("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.
Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment ("Plaintiff's Motion") (ECF No. 13)
and Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment
("Commissioner's Motion") (ECF No. 16). 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 case for further
proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
applied for DIB and SSI on February 3, 2009 and February 17,
2009, respectively, alleging disability beginning on July 1,
2008. R. 19. The claims were denied on May 14, 2009.
Id. After Plaintiff asked for reconsideration of the
denial of benefits, Commissioner again denied Plaintiff's
benefits application on October 7, 2009. Id. On
September 24, 2010, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Id. On
October 28, 2011, Plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an
ALJ where he amended the alleged onset date of disability to
October 12, 2008. Id. On February 24, 2012 the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff did not qualify for DIB and SSI. R.
25-26. On February 28, 2014 this Court granted
Commissioner's Consent Motion to Remand. R. 590. On May
27, 2014 the Appeals Council remanded the case back to an ALJ
with instructions to: (1) update the treatment evidence on
Plaintiff's medical condition in accordance with 20
C.F.R. 404.1512-1513 and 416.912-913; (2) give further
consideration to the treatment records of Potomac Pain and
Rehabilitation Associates, LLC; (3) give further
consideration to Plaintiff's maximum functional capacity
and provide rationale with specific references to evidence of
record in support of assessed limitations; (4) give further
consideration to past relevant work Plaintiff could perform
with the limitations established by the evidence; and (5) if
warranted by the expanded record, obtain supplemental
evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effect of
the assessed limitations on Plaintiff's occupational
base. R. 594-95. At the second hearing before an ALJ,
Plaintiff did not pursue the amended alleged onset date (Oct.
12, 2008); therefore, the ALJ considered that Plaintiff
alleged disability since July 1, 2008. R. 478.
Standard of Review
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 F.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.").
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
Court shall find a person legally disabled under Title II and
Title XVI 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), 416.905(a) (2012). The Code of
Federal Regulations outlines a five-step process that the
Commissioner must follow to determine if a claimant meets
1) Determine whether the plaintiff is "doing substantial
gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i) (2012). 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), 416.920(a)(4)(ii) (2012). If he does not
have such impairment or combination of impairments, he is not
disabled. If he does meet these requirements, proceed to step
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), 416.920(a)(4)(iii) (2012). 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), 416.920(a)(4)(iv) (2012). 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v)
(2012). If he can perform other work, he is not disabled. If
he cannot, he is disabled.
has the burden to prove that he is disabled at steps one
through four, and Commissioner has the burden to prove that
Plaintiff is not disabled at step five. Pass v.
Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) ...