United States District Court, D. Maryland
DAVID COPPERTHITE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
November 15, 2016, Jawanda Hardy ("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.
See ECF No. 1 ("the Complaint"). After
consideration of the Complaint and the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 14 and 16), 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.
16) is GRANTED, and the decision of the SSA is AFFIRMED.
October 23, 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 September 1. 2011. Her
claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration on
April 9, 2013 and August 28, 2013, respectively.
Subsequently, on September 9, 2013, Plaintiff filed a written
request for a hearing and, on July 22, 2015, a video hearing
was held whereby Plaintiff appeared in Baltimore, Maryland
and an Administrative Law Judge ("ALT") presided
over the hearing from Roanoke. Virginia. On August 14. 2015,
the ALJ rendered a decision ruling that Plaintiff "ha[d]
not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act [("the Act")], from September 1, 2011,
through the date of this decision." See ECF No.
11 at 35. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an appeal of the
ALJ's disability determination and, on September 28,
2016. the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review. Thus, the decision rendered by the ALJ became the
final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.1481 (2017); see also Sims v. Apfel, 530
U.S. 103.106-07 (2000).
November 16, 2016, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this
Court seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's
denial of Plaintiffs disability application. On March 24,
2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. On May
12, 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. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir.
2005) (per curiam) (citation omitted). The Court, however,
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.");
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."
(citations omitted)). 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 (4th Cir. 1996)
("Under the [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 legal standard." (citations omitted)).
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)
(citation omitted); see Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d
470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012). It "consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be less than a
preponderance." Smith, 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. Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to
differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the
responsibility for that decision falls on the ALJ."
Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653 (internal citations
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
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 Act. The
term "disability, " for purposes of the Act, is
defined as the "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 which 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.
§§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
determining whether a claimant has a disability within the
meaning of the Act, the AU, 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 nondisability can be made, the
[Commissioner] will not review the claim further."
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 twelve months, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(H), 404.1520(c), 416.909, 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(aX4)(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. SSR 96-8p. 1996 WL 374184, at *1 (July 2, 1996). 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, 76 F.3d at 594; 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 AIJ must consider
all of 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, 1996 WL 374186, at *l-9 (July 2, 1996).
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. Id., at *5.
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. During 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): 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, 667 F.3d at 472-73:
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
September 1, 2011. ECF No. 11 at 26. At step two, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of
"right hand injury in 2009 with history of multiple
surgeries[, ] borderline intellectual functioning[, ] and
attention deficit disorder/ attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder." Id. The ALJ also "f[ou]nd
that all other impairments ... alleged and found in the
record are non-severe, as they have been responsive to
treatment and/or cause no more than minimally vocationally
relevant limitations." Id. at 27. 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, subpt. P, app. 1.
Id. At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
has the RFC:
to perform a range of light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). [Plaintiff] would retain the
capacity for lifting/ carrying 10 pounds frequently and 20
pounds occasionally: standing/ walking for 6 hours or more in
a normal 8 hour work day: sitting for 6 hours or more in a
normal 8 hour work day: but. [Plaintiff] would be limited to
frequent handling, fingering, and pushing pulling with the
right upper extremity. [Plaintiff] would be precluded from
work involving climbing ropes, ladders, or scaffolds and
exposure to hazards, including machinery and heights; but,
[Plaintiff] would retain the capacity to perform simple, easy
to learn, routine, unskilled work activity with no
interaction with the general public and no more than
occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors.
[Plaintiff] would also require a static work environment with
few changes in work routines and settings; and. she would
require work with very little or no reading skills required.
Id. at 29. Based on the resulting RFC, the ALJ then
determined that Plaintiff was "unable to perform any
past relevant ...