United States District Court, D. Maryland
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
David Copperthite United States Magistrate Judge.
April 6, 2016, Oracius Brunson ("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. 15 and 21), 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. 15) is
DENIED. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
21) is GRANTED, and the decision of the Social Security
Administration is AFFIRMED.
December 2, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Title XVI application for
supplemental security income and a Title II application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits
alleging disability beginning on December 31, 2008. His claim
was denied initially and upon reconsideration on April 25,
2012 and January 11, 2013, respectively. Subsequently, on
March 5, 2013. Plaintiff filed a written request for a
hearing and, on September 4. 2014, a hearing was held before
an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On October 3.
2014, the ALJ rendered a decision ruling that Plaintiff was
not disabled under the Social Security Act. See ECF
No. 10 at 20-39. Thereafter, on December 4, 2014, Plaintiff
filed an appeal of the ALFs disability determination and, 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).
April 6, 2016. Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision. On September 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed a
Motion for Summary Judgment. On January 26. 2017, 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 dc 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. Chaler. 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 (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. Chater, 76 F.3d
585, 589 (4lh 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. 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 Burnhart 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 docs
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 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 the determined 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. ...