United States District Court, D. Maryland
David Copperthite, United States Magistrate Judge.
December 15, 2016. Michele Mary Re ("Plaintiff)
petitioned this court to review the Social Security
Administration's ("SSA") final decision to deny
her claims 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.
19-20), and the response thereto (ECF No. 21), 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. 19) is
DENIED, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
20) is DENIED, and the decision of the SSA is REMANDED
for proceedings consistent with this
disability beginning on December 15. 2012, Plaintiff filed a
Title II application for DIB and a Title XVI application for
SSI on April 24 and 25, 2013. respectively. Plaintiffs claims
were denied initially and upon reconsideration on July 11 and
November 12, 2013, respectively. Subsequently, on December
27, 2013, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing
and, on August 19. 2015. a hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge (the "ALT). On September 2.
2015, the ALJ rendered a decision ruling that Plaintiff had
not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act (the "Act"). On September 9, 2015, Plaintiff
requested review by the Appeals Council, and on October 26,
2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request. 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
December 15, 2016, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this
Court seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's
denial of Plaintiffs DIB and SSI applications. On September
5, 2017. Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. On
November 6, 2017, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary
Judgment, to which Plaintiff responded on November 28,
2017. This matter is now fully briefed and the
Court has reviewed Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment and
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, including the
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 AIJ*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 SSI, 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[.]" 20C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(H), 416.920(a)(4)(H). 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)(H),
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. ...