United States District Court, D. Maryland
David Copperthite United States Magistrate Judge.
December 8, 2016, Tulani Hasan ("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, the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 14 and 25), and
the supplement and response thereto (ECF Nos. 20 and 24), the
Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See Loc.R.
105.6 (D.Md. 2016). In addition, for me reasons that follow,
Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14) is
DENIED, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
25) is GRANTED, and the decision of the SSA is AFFIRMED.
disability beginning on January 1. 2009, Plaintiff filed a
Title II application for a period of disability and DIB and a
Title XVI application for SSI on January 6 and 9. 2012,
respectively. Her claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration on January 1 and December 6, 2012,
respectively. Subsequently, on February 14, 2013, Plaintiff
filed a written request for a hearing and. on December 12,
2013, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALT). On February 25, 2014, the ALJ rendered a
decision ruling that Plaintiff was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act (the "Act").
Plaintiff appealed the decision to the Appeals Council.
7. 2015, the Appeals Council remanded the case back to the
ALJ in order to obtain additional evidence concerning
Plaintiffs psychiatric impairments, including evidence from a
medical examiner regarding the nature and severity of such
impairments, further consider Plaintiffs maximum
"residual functional capacity" ("RFC"),
and obtain evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the
effect of the assessed limitations on Plaintiffs occupational
base. Plaintiff appeared at a second hearing before the ALJ
on September 21, 2015, during which she amended the onset
date of her disability to December 8, 2011, and the ALJ
rendered a decision ruling that Plaintiff "ha[d] not
been disabled within the meaning of the [Act] at any time
from the alleged onset date through the date of this
decision." ECF No. 11 at 49. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed
an appeal of the ALJ's disability determination and, on
October 21, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs
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).
December 8, 2016. Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of
Plaintiff s disability application. On April 24, 2017, Plaintiff
filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. On June 15. 2017,
Plaintiff filed a supplemental memorandum, which Defendant
responded to on July 17. 2017. On August 8, 2017, Defendant
filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. This matter is now fully
briefed and the Court has reviewed Plaintiffs Motion for
Summary Judgement, including the supplement and response
thereto, 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. 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."); 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 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 [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 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 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 ...