United States District Court, D. Maryland
DAVID COPPERTHITE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
October 14. 2016, Kraig Ward ("Plaintiff")
petitioned this court to review the Social Security
Administration's ("SSA") final decision to deny
his claim for 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. 18-19) and
Plaintiffs response to Defendant's motion, 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. 18) is
DENIED, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
19) is GRANTED, and the decision of the Social Security
Administration is AFFIRMED.
December 16, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Title XVI application
for SSI. alleging disability beginning on December 31, 2009.
His claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration on
April 20, 2011 and October 14, 2011. respectively.
Subsequently, on November 30, 2011, Plaintiff filed a written
request for a hearing and, on January 23, 2013, a hearing was
held in Dover, Delaware before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ"). On April 5, 2013, the ALJ rendered a
decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Thereafter,
Plaintiff filed an appeal of the ALJ's disability
determination and, on June 20, 2014, the Appeals Council
vacated the 2013 hearing decision and remanded the case for
further administrative action, including an opportunity for a
supplemental hearing and issuance of a new decision. A remand
hearing was held in Dover, Delaware on March 25, 2015, and on
April 29, 2015, the ALJ again denied Plaintiffs claim for
SSI, ruling that Plaintiff "ha[d] not been under a
disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act
[("the Act'')] since December 16, 2010. the date
the application was filed." ECF No. 12-3 at 14.
Plaintiff filed another appeal, and on August 30, 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
October 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of
Plaintiffs disability application. On June 16, 2017, Plaintiff
filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. On August 18, 2017,
Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, and Plaintiff
filed a response. This matter is now fully briefed and the
Court has reviewed Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment,
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, and Plaintiffs
Response to 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
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 SSI, a claimant must establish that
he is disabled 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 "his physical or
mental impairment or impairments are of such a severity that
he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot,
considering his 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 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 AU 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), 416.920(c).
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.3d288, 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 ALJ 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 ...