United States District Court, D. Maryland
Lee Middleton 4730 Bonnie Brae Rd. Pikesville, MD 21208
Kavita Sahai, Esq. Social Security Administration 6401
Security Boulevard Room 617 Baltimore, MD 21235
Ms. Middleton and Counsel:
24, 2017, Plaintiff Tanya Lee Middleton, who proceeds pro
se, petitioned this Court to review the Social Security
Administration's final decision to deny her claims for
Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance
Benefits. [ECF No. 1]. I have considered the
Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. [ECF No. 17]. I
find that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6
(D. Md. 2016). This Court must uphold the decision of the
Agency if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the
Agency employed proper legal standards. See 42
U.S.C. §§ 4051(g), 1383(c)(3); Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Under that
standard, I will grant the Commissioner's motion and
affirm the Commissioner's judgment pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This letter explains my
Middleton protectively filed her claims on December 1, 2011,
alleging a disability onset date of November 1, 2011. (Tr.
156-69). Her claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration. (Tr. 59-113). A hearing, at which Ms.
Middleton declined to be represented by counsel, was held on
January 14, 2015, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 26-51). Following that hearing, the
ALJ determined that Ms. Middleton was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time
frame. (Tr. 15-20). The Appeals Council denied Ms.
Middleton's request for review, (Tr. 4-9), so the
ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision
of the Agency.
carefully reviewed the ALJ's opinion and the entire
record. See Elam v. Barnhart, 386 F.Supp.2d 746, 753
(E.D. Tex. 2005) (mapping an analytical framework for
judicial review of a pro se action challenging an
adverse administrative decision, including: (1) examining
whether the Commissioner's decision generally comports
with regulations, (2) reviewing the ALJ's critical
findings for compliance with the law, and (3) determining
from the evidentiary record whether substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's findings). For the reasons described
below, substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.
proceeded in accordance with applicable law in applying the
sequential evaluation, although he ended his inquiry at step
one and did not reach all five steps. The ALJ determined, at
step one, that Ms. Middleton had engaged in substantial
gainful activity from her alleged onset date of November 1,
2011 through the date of the ALJ's opinion. (Tr. 17);
see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
record reflects that Ms. Middleton worked as a self-employed
hair stylist for many years. Ms. Middleton testified that, in
1990, she reduced her work from full-time to part-time due to
problems with her hands. (Tr. 33-34). However, the ALJ noted
that, in 1989, Ms. Middleton had earned $10, 764.00, and in
2012, after the alleged onset date, Ms. Middleton earned $10,
846.00. (Tr. 17, 170-72). The ALJ provided a review of Ms.
Middleton's annual earnings and noted that her earnings
actually increased between 2010-2014, which is the time frame
in which she seeks disability benefits. (Tr. 18). Ms.
Middleton testified at the hearing that she had worked
part-time, three to four days per week, as a hair stylist
throughout that period. (Tr. 32).
properly cited the applicable regulations which must be
applied to determine whether a claimant is engaged in
substantial gainful activity (SGA). In a case, like Ms.
Middleton's, involving a non-blind, self-employed
claimant, a claimant's work constitutes SGA if she (1)
rendered services that are significant to the operation of
the business, and (2) received a substantial income. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1575(a)(2)(i); 416.975(a)(2). For the
first factor, services are significant if the claimant
operates the business alone and is not a farm landlord.
Id. Thus, Ms. Middleton's services are
significant to her hair stylist business. In considering the
second factor, substantial income is measured by first
determining the claimant's net income, or countable
income. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1575(c), 416.975(c). The
countable income is averaged over a twelve-month period and
then measured against the amounts set forth in 20 C.F.R.
404.1574(b)(2) and 416.974(b)(2). A claimant's averaged
countable income is found to be substantial if: (1) it
exceeds the amounts set forth in those subsections; (2) it is
less than those amounts, but is comparable to the average
monthly income before the claimant became seriously impaired;
or (3) it is less than those amounts, but is comparable to
the earnings of unimpaired self-employed persons in the
claimant's community in the same or similar business.
that test to Ms. Middleton's situation, her average
monthly earnings fall below the monthly SGA amounts in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1574(b)(2) and 416.974(b)(2).
However, her averaged countable income is comparable to her
average monthly income before her alleged onset date of
November 1, 2011. In fact, as the ALJ noted, in 2012, Ms.
Middleton earned significantly more than she had earned in
2009. (Tr. 19). Due to the comparable and, in fact, generally
increased income after the alleged onset of disability, Ms.
Middleton was engaged in SGA under the regulations during the
period in which she sought disability benefits. She did not
establish any continuous twelve-month period during which she
did not engage in SGA, and accordingly cannot be disabled as
defined in the Social Security Act.
my review of the ALJ's decision is confined to whether
substantial evidence, in the record as it was reviewed by the
ALJ, supports the decision and whether correct legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390, 404 (1971). Even if there is other evidence
that may support Ms. Middleton's position, I am not
permitted to reweigh the evidence or to substitute my own
judgment for that of the ALJ. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In considering the entire
record, and the evidence outlined above, I find that the ALJ
supported his conclusion with substantial evidence.
reasons set forth herein, Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment, (ECF No. 17), is GRANTED. The Commissioner's
judgment is AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The Clerk is directed to CLOSE this case.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion and docketed as an order.
Stephanie A. Gallagher United ...