United States District Court, D. Maryland
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S
ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR REMAND
DAVID COPPERTHITE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
March 3, 2016. Andre Barnhart ("Plaintiff'')
petitioned this court to review the Social Security
Administration's ("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. 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 DENIED, and Plaintiffs
alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 16) is GRANTED.
January' 26, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Title XVI
application for supplemental security income alleging
disability beginning on January 1, 2012. The claim was denied
initially and upon reconsideration on March 8, 2012 and July
27, 2012. respectively. Subsequently, on August 17, 2012.
Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing and, on
September 25, 2013, a hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALT). On October 1, 2013, the
ALJ rendered a decision denying Plaintiffs claim for SSI.
See ECF No. 11 at 29-43. Thereafter, Plaintiff
requested review of the ALJ's decision and, on December
9, 2014, the Appeals Council granted Plaintiffs request. On
January 30, 2015, the Appeals Council issued a new decision
adopting the ALJ's disability determination in part and
concluding that Plaintiff "has not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act since
January 26, 2012, the date the application was filed (20
C.F.R. 416.920(g))." ECF No. 11 at 40. Thus, the
decision rendered by the Appeals Council became the final
decision of the Commissioner. See C.F.R. §
416.1481; see also Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103,
March 3. 2016, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision. On September 11. 2016, Plaintiff filed a
Motion for Summary Judgment. On November 10, 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. ('hater, 99 F.3d
635, 638 (4lh Cir. 1996) ("The duty to
resolve conflicts in the evidence rests with the ALI, not
with a reviewing court."); see also Smith v.
Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th 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 ALTs 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. Chaler, 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.
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. Chater, 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 Burden 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
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),
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 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).
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 AIJ 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 combination, 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. Calvin. 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(e). RFC is an assessment of an individual's
ability to do sustained work-related physical and mental
activities in a ...