United States District Court, D. Maryland
David Copperthite United States Magistrate Judge.
October 13, 2016. Benjamin Turner ("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. 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.
October 15, 2012. Plaintiff filed a Title II application for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and
a Title XVI application for supplemental security income
alleging disability beginning on August 31, 2012. His claims
were denied initially and upon reconsideration on April 23,
2013 and August 21, 2013, respectively. Subsequently, on
August 31, 2013, Plaintiff filed a written request for a
hearing and, on March 18, 2015, a hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On May 8, 2015,
the ALJ rendered a decision ruling that Plaintiff "ha[d|
not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, from August 31, 2012, through the date of this
decision." See ECF No. 11-3 at 34. Thereafter.
Plaintiff filed an appeal of the ALJ's disability
determination and, on April 1, 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).
to that decision, Plaintiff filed a second application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits
alleging disability beginning on May 9, 2015. That claim was
granted on February 3, 2017.
October 13, 2016, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of
Plaintiff s first disability application. On February 21,
2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. On April
24, 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 Judgment.
Court is authorized to review the Commissioner's denial
of benefits under 42 U.S.C.A. § 405(g)."
Johnson v. Barnhari, 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. Chafer. 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).
Determinations and Bi rden 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). 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)(h), 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 AU
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.
instant matter, the ALJ performed the sequential evaluation
and found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of
August 31, 2012. ECF No. 11-3 at 25. At step two, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of mood
disorder; major depressive disorder; anxiety disorder;
obsessive-compulsive disorder; pervasive development
disorder; schizotypal personality disorder; and autism
spectrum disorder. Id. The ALJ also found that
Plaintiff had the non-severe impairments of osteochondritis
dissecans; GERD; pes planus; onychomycosis; and subungal
hyperkeratosis. 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. Id. at 26. At step four,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following non-exertional limitations: simple,
routine, repetitive tasks; low stress work environment,
defined as no strict production quotas; and, occasional