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Timmons v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 21, 2016

CORNELLE TIMMONS, 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 January 29, 2016, Comelle Timmons ("Plaintiff) petitioned this court to review the Social Security Administration's C'SSA") final decision to deny his 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. 14 and 16). the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). In addition, for the reasons that follow. Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14) is DENIED. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) is GRANTED, and the decision of the Social Security Administration is AFFIRMED.

         Case Background

         On July 27, 2011. Plaintiff filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income alleging disability beginning on July 1. 2002. His claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration on November 15. 2011 and July 16. 2012, respectively. Subsequently, on July 20, 2012, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing and, on May 9, 2014. a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge. On June 13, 2014. the ALJ rendered a decision denying Plaintiffs claims for SSI. See ECF No. 11. Thereafter, on December 4, 2015. the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review of the ALJ's decision. Thus, the decision rendered by the ALJ at the 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 January 29, 2016. Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.[1] On July 12, 2016. Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. On August 30. 2016, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. This matter is now fully briefed and the Court has reviewed Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgement and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Standard of Review

         "This Court is authorized to review the Commissioner's denial of benefits under 42 U.S.C.A. § 405(g)." Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, the Court does not conduct a de novo review of the evidence. Instead, the Court's review of an SSA decision is deferential, as "[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see Smith v. Chater. 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996) ("The duty to resolve conflicts in the evidence rests with the ALJ, not with a reviewing court."); see also Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4, h Cir. 1986) ("We do not conduct a de novo review of the evidence, and the Secretary's finding of non-disability is to be upheld, even if the court disagrees, so long as it is supported by substantial evidence."). Therefore, the issue before the reviewing court "is not whether [Plaintiff] is disabled, but whether the ALJ's finding that [Plaintiff] is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and was reached based upon a correct application of the relevant law." Craig v. Chafer, 76 F.3d 585. 589 (4, h Cir. 1996) ("Under the Social Security Act. [a reviewing court] must uphold the factual findings of the [ALJJ if they are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard.").

         Substantial evidence means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389. 401 (1971) (internal quotation marks omitted): see Hancock v. Astrue. 667 F.3d 470, 472 (2012). It "consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be less than a preponderance." Smith v. Chafer, 99 F.3d at 638. "In reviewing for substantial evidence, we do not undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute our judgment for that of the [ALJJ." Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d at 653 (internal quotation marks omitted). "Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the [ALJ]." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, in conducting the "substantial evidence" inquiry, the court shall determine whether the ALJ has considered all relevant evidence and sufficiently explained the weight accorded to that evidence. Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v. Akers. 131 F.3d 438. 439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).

         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)(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. §§ ...


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