United States District Court, D. Maryland
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANTS MOTION FOR
COPPERTHITE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
March 11. 2016, Wanda Rios ("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. 16 and 17), the Court finds that no
hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.
2016). In addition, for the reasons that follow. Plaintiffs
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) is DENIED,
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17) is
GRANTED. and the decision of the Social Security
Administration is AFFIRMED.
December 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Title XVI application for
supplemental security income alleging disability beginning on
December 10. 2010. Plaintiff additionally filed a Title II
application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits. Her claim was denied initially and upon
reconsideration on March 14, 2014 and July 17. 2014.
respectively. Subsequently, on July 31, 2014. Plaintiff filed
a written request for a hearing and. on May 13, 2015. a
hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ"). On December 30, 2015, the AIJ rendered a
decision denying Plaintiffs claims for SSI. See ECF
No. 13. Thereafter, on February 5, 2016. the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiffs request for review of 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).
March 11, 2016, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision. On August 15, 2016, Plaintiff filed a
Motion for Summary Judgment. On October 5. 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
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. Gutter, 76 F.3d
585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) ("Under the Social
Security Act, [a reviewing court] must uphold the factual
findings of the [ALJ] if they are supported by substantial
evidence and were reached through application of the correct
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.
Astrae. 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. Chaier, 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
[ALJ]." 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).
Determinations and Birden of Proof
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).
determining whether a claimant has a disability within the
meaning of the Social Security Act, the ALJ, acting on behalf
of the Commissioner, follows the five-step evaluation process
outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520. 416.920; see Barn hurt 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).
one. the ALJ 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).
two, the ALJ 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
meeting the durational requirement of 12 months, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 404.1520(c). 416.920(a)(4)(ii),
three, the ALJ considers whether the claimant's
impairments, either individually or in comhination. meet or
medically equal one of the presumptively disabling
impairments listed in the Code of Federal Regulations. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed
impairments, 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).
to advancing to step four of the sequential evaluation, the
ALJ must assess the claimant's "residual functional
capacity" ("RFC"), which is then used at the
fourth and fifth steps of the analysis. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(c). RFC is an assessment of an individual's
ability to do sustained work-related physical and mental
activities in a work setting on a regular and continuing
basis. Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. The ALJ must
consider even those impairments that are not
"severe." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(2).
determining RFC, the ALJ evaluates the claimant's
subjective symptoms (e.g., allegations of pain) using a
two-part test. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 594
(4th Cir.1996); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529. First, the ALJ
must determine whether objective evidence shows the existence
of a medical impairment that could reasonably be expected to
produce the actual alleged symptoms. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1529(b). Once the claimant makes that threshold showing,
the ALJ must evaluate the extent to which the symptoms limit
the claimant's capacity to work. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1529(c)(1). At this second stage, the ALJ must consider
all the available evidence, including medical history,
objective medical evidence, and statements by the claimant.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c). The ALJ must assess the
credibility of the claimant's statements, as symptoms can
sometimes manifest at a greater level of severity of
impairment than is shown by solely objective medical
evidence. SSR 96-7p. To assess credibility, the ALJ should
consider factors such as the claimant's daily activities,
treatments she has received for her symptoms, medications,
and any other factors contributing to functional limitations.
four, the ALJ considers whether the claimant has the ability
to perform past relevant work based on his or her RFC. 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).
the claimant is unable to resume her past relevant work, the
ALJ proceeds to the fifth and final step of the sequential
analysis. 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, however, the burden of proof shifts to the ALJ
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, h 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. i}§
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. In addition,
before the agency may conclude that a claimant can perform
alternative skilled or semi-skilled work, it must show that
the claimant possesses skills that are transferable to those
alternative positions or that no such transferable skills are
necessary to perform those positions. McLain v
Schweiker, 715 F.2d 866, 868-69 (4th Cir. 1983).
instant matter, the ALJ performed the sequential evaluation
and found, at step one, that Plaintiff did not engage in
substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset
date of December 5. 2013. ECF No. 13 at 20. At step two, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: affective disorder, anxiety disorder,
degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder, and
degenerative changes of the lumbar spine. Id. at 21.
The ALJ further found that the aforementioned impairments
were expected to last a period of twelve months. Id.
At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. Subpart P, Appendix 1.
four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity to "perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(a) except she can have only
occasional contact with the public and co-workers and
frequently use her right arm and hand." Id. at
23. In addition, after considering the evidence on record,
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiffs medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged
symptoms. Id. at 27. However, the ALJ found that
Plaintiffs statements concerning the intensity, persistence,
and limiting effects of those symptoms were not entirely
credible. Id. Based on the resulting RFC. the ALJ
then determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing past
relevant work as a secretary and receptionist.
at step Five, the ALJ determined that, "[c]onsidering
the claimant's age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity, the claimant has also acquired
work skills from past relevant work that are transferable to
other occupations with jobs existing in significant numbers
in the national economy." Id. at 33. Based on
the testimony of the vocational expert (VE), the ALJ
determined that Plaintiffs skills would transfer to secretary
positions in other industries, such as school secretary (15,
000 jobs locally. 500.000 jobs nationally) and data entry
clerk (1, 000 positions locally, 50.000 positions