United States District Court, D. Maryland
AMY S. HICKEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner. Social Security Administration, Defendant.
David Coppenhite United States Magistrate Judge
October 25, 2016, Amy Hickey ("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 the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 15 and 19), 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.
19) is GRANTED, and the decision of the SSA is AFFIRMED.
January 16, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for
a period of disability and DIB and a Title XVI application
for SSI, alleging disability beginning on December 5, 2012.
Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration on
May 13, 2013 and September 27, 2013. respectively.
Subsequently, on October 9, 2013, Plaintiff filed a written
request for a hearing and, on February 3, 2015, a video
hearing was held whereby Plaintiff appeared in Cumberland,
Maryland and an Administrative Law Judge ("ALT) presided
over the hearing from Charlottesville, Virginia. On March 27,
2015, the ALI rendered a decision ruling that Plaintiff
"ha[d] not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act [(the "Act")], from December 5,
2012, through the date of this decision." See
ECF No. 12-3 at 42. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an appeal of
the ALJ's disability determination and, on September 4,
2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for
review. Thus, the decision rendered by the ALI 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).
October 25, 2016, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of
Plaintiffs disability application. On March 6, 2017, Plaintiff
filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. On June 19, 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
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 AU'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. Chaler, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996)
("Under the [Act], [a reviewing court] must uphold the
factual findings of the [ALJJ 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." Smithy 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 ALJ, acting on
behalf of the Commissioner, follows the live-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)(ii), 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. ...