United States District Court, D. Maryland
David Copperthite, United States Magistrate Judge
3, 2017. Rudolph Johnson ("Plaintiff') petitioned
this Court to review the Social Security Administration's
("SSA") final decision to deny his 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 & 18), 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
DENIF.D. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
18) is GRANTED, and the decision of the SSA is AFFIRMED.
February 4, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for
DIB as well as a separate Title XVI application for SSI.
which both alleged disability beginning on March 15, 2010.
His claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration on
July 25, 2013 and January 24, 2014,
respectively. Subsequently, on January 29, 2014,
Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing and, on
December 9, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALT)
presided over a hearing held in Baltimore. Maryland. At the
hearing. Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to July 25,
2013. ECF No. 12 at 19. On February 2, 2016, the ALJ rendered
a decision ruling that Plaintiff "ha[d] not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act [("the
Act")], from July 25, 2013, through the date of this
decision” Id. at 31. Thereafter, Plaintiff
filed an appeal of the ALJ's disability determination
and, on May 10, 2017. the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. Thus, the decision
rendered by the ALJ became the final decision of the SSA.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481 (2017); see also
Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).
3. 2017. Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court seeking
judicial review of the SSA's denial of Plaintiffs
disability applications. On November 22, 2017, Plaintiff
filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, and on February 26,
2018, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary
Judgment. This matter is now fully briefed and the
Court has reviewed both parties* motions for summary
Court is authorized to review the [SSA|'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 [SSAJ 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
tie 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 the
plaintiff is disabled, but whether the ALJ's finding that
the plaintiff is not disabled is supported by substantial
evidence and was reached based upon a correct application of
the relevant law. Brown v. Comm'r. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 873 F.3d 251, 267 (4th Cir. 2017) ("[A]
reviewing court must uphold the [disability] determination
when an ALJ has applied correct legal standards and the
ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial
evidence." (citation and internal quotation marks
evidence is that which a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. It consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be less than a
preponderance." Pearson v. Colvin. 810 F.3d
204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015) (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). "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."
Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012)
(citation and internal quotation marks 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 Cir. 1997).
Determinations and Burden of Proof
order to be eligible for DIB and SSI. a claimant must
establish that he 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).
l382c(a)(3XA); 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), l382c(a)(3)(B).
determining whether a claimant has a disability within the
meaning of the Act. the ALJ. acting on behalf of the SSA,
follows the five-step evaluation process outlined in the Code
of Federal Regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920: see Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35
(4th Cir. 2015). The evaluation process is sequential,
meaning that "[i]f at any step a finding of disability
or nondisability can be made, the [SSA] will not review the
claim further." Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S.
20, 24 (2003); see 20 C.F.R. §§
one, the ALJ considers the claimant's work activity to
determine if the claimant is engaged in "substantial
gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. §§
4O4.l52O(a)(4)(i), 4l6.92O(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is
engaged in "substantial gainful activity." then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
4O4.l52O(a)(4)(i), 404.1520(b), 4l6.92O(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. §§
4O4.l52O(a)(4)(ii), 4l6.92O(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. §§
4O4.l52O(a)(4)(ii). 404.1520(c), 416.909, 4l6.92O(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. §§ 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(iii). 4l6.92O(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. §§ 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(iii).
404.1520(d), 4l6.92O(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(d): see Radford
v. Colvin, 734 F.3d288, 29l (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 v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 594
(4th Cir. 1996); 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 claimants 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 374186, at * 1-9 (July 2, 1996).
To assess credibility, the ALJ should consider factors such
as the claimant's daily activities, treatments he has
received for his symptoms, medications, and any other factors
contributing to functional limitations, hi. at *5.
four, the ALJ considers whether the claimant has the ability
to perform past relevant work based on the determined RFC. 20
C.F.R. §§ 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(iv), 4l6.92O(a)(4)(iv). If
the claimant can still perform past relevant work, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
4O4.l52O(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(e), 4l6.92O(a)(4)(iv),
the claimant is unable to resume past relevant work, the ALJ
proceeds to the fifth and final step of the sequential
analysis. During steps one through four of the evaluation,
the claimant has the burden of proof. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; see Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 (1987); Radford. 734 F.3d at 291. At step
five, however, the burden of proof shifts to the ALJ to
prove: (1) that there is other work that the claimant can do,
given the claimant's age. education, work experience, and
RFC (as determined at step four), and: (2) that such
alternative work exists in significant numbers in the
national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(v).
4l6.92O(a)(4)(v); see Hancock, 667 F.3d at 472-73;
Walls v. Barnhan. 296 F.3d 287, 290 (4th Cir. 2002).
If the claimant can perform other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
4O4.l52O(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g)(1), 404.1560(c),
4l6.92O(a)(4)(v). If the claimant cannot perform other work,
then the claimant is disabled. Id.
instant matter, the ALJ performed the sequential evaluation
and found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of
July 25, 2013. ECF No. 12 at 22. At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of "major
depressive disorder: status post right knee surgery;
bilateral knee pain: right wrist pain; and back pain."
Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1.
Id. at 23. At step four, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff had the RFC:
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except he can perform no climbing of ladders and
scaffolds, but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl and balance. He can also
frequently handle and linger with the right, non-dominant
hand; and can have frequent use of hand controls with the
right hand. He is further limited to performing simple,
routine, repetitive tasks, but not those done at a production
rate pace, as in an assembly line, where each task must be
completed within a fixed time. In addition, time off-task
during the workday can be accommodated by normal breaks.
Id. at 24-25. The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff
is unable to perform any past relevant work. Id. at
30. Finally, at step five, the ALJ found that,
"[considering [Plaintiff|'s age. Education. work
experience, and [RFC), there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff]
can perform." Id. Thus, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff "ha[d] not been under a disability, as defined
in the [Act], from July 25, 2013, through the date of this
decision." Id. at 31.
raises five allegations of error on appeal: (1) that the
ALJ's RFC determination inadequately accounted for
Plaintiffs moderate difficulties with concentration,
persistence, and pace: (2) that the ALJ improperly determined
Plaintiffs credibility: (3) that substantial evidence did not
support the AIJ's RFC determination for his physical
impairments; (4) that the ALJ erred by relying on the
vocational expert's ("VE'") testimony; and
(5) that the ALJ failed to review Plaintiffs prior claim.