United States District Court, D. Maryland
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Copperthite United States Magistrate Judge
13, 2016, Brandy Allen ("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. 14 and 15), 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. 14) is DENIED,
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15) is
GRANTED, and the decision of the Social Security
Administration is AFFIRMED.
11, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits alleging
disability beginning on April 27, 2012. On May 15, 2012,
Plaintiff also filed a Title XVI application for supplemental
security income. Her claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration on July 31, 2012 and January 25, 2013.
respectively. Subsequently, on March 5. 2013. Plaintiff filed
a written request for a hearing and. on September 10, 2014, a
hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ"). On January 30, 2015. the ALJ rendered a
decision ruling that Plaintiff was not disabled under die
Social Security Act. See ECF No. 11 at 27-46.
Thereafter, on February 25, 2015, Plaintiff filed an appeal
of the ALJ's disability determination and, on June 13,
2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for
review. 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).
13, 2016, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court seeking
judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision. On December 6, 2016. Plaintiff filed a
Motion for Summary Judgment. On February 2. 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 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 (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 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. Chater, 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).
Disability Determinations and Burden of Proof
order to be eligible for DIB, a claimant must establish that
she 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 "[her] physical or mental impairment or
impairments are of such a severity that [she] is not only
unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering
[her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any
other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the
national economy[.]" 42 U.S.C. §§
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). II" 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 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. 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(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. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(e), 416.920(a)(4)(iv),
the claimant is unable to resume 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 (4th 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. §§
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.