United States District Court, D. Maryland
David Copperthite, United States Magistrate Judge
August 2, 2017. Brian Leroy Carbaugh ("Plaintiff')
petitioned this Court to review the Social Security
Administration's ("SSA") final decision to deny
his 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. 20
& 23) and Plaintiffs reply (ECF No. 26), 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. 20) is
DENIED, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
23) is GRANTED, and the decision of the SSA is AFFIRMED.
April 12, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for
DIB and on May 30, 2012, Plaintiff filed a separate Title XVI
application for SSI, which both alleged disability beginning
on October 1, 2010. His claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Subsequently, on November 14. 2013.
Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing and, on May
1. 2014, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ")
presided over a hearing. On May 30. 2014, the ALJ rendered a
decision ruling that Plaintiff was not disabled under the
Social Security Act (the "Act"). Plaintiff
requested review by the Appeals Council, which granted the
request on October 23, 2015 and remanded Plaintiffs claim for
a new hearing. In its remand order, the Appeals Council
directed the ALJ to consider the opinion of Plaintiffs
treating source psychiatrist. Dr. Larry Edelstein, obtain
further vocational expert testimony, and give further
consideration to Plaintiffs maximum residual functional
capacity ("RFC"). especially considering Dr.
Edelstein's opinions. ECF No. 15 at 14.
April 8, 2016, Plaintiff appeared and testified at the second
hearing before a different ALJ. ECF No. 15 at 14. On July 13,
2016. the ALJ issued a decision ruling that Plaintiff
"ha[d] not been under a disability, as defined in the
[Act], from October 1, 2010. through the date of this
decision." ECF No. 15 at 26. Thereafter. Plaintiff filed
an appeal of the ALJ's disability determination and. on
June 14, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request
for review. Thus. the decision rendered by the ALJ became the
final decision of the SSA. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.1481 (2018): see also Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S.
103, 106-07 (2000).
August 2. 2017. Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court
seeking judicial review of the SSA's denial of his
disability applications. On January 30. 2018, Plaintiff filed
a Motion for Summary Judgment, and on May 2, 2018. after
receiving an extension of time for filing. Defendant filed a
Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff filed a response on
May 29. 2018. This matter is now fully briefed and the
Court has reviewed both parties' motions.
Court is authorized to review the [SSA]'s denial of
benefits under 42 U.S.C.A. § 405(g)." Johnson
v. Barnhurt, 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 [SSA] 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 [SSA]'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 ALJs 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 omitted)).
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) (internal citations and 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)
(internal citations and 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),
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 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 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." Barnhan 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. §§
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)(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. §§ 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 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. Chaler, 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 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 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. Id., 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If
the claimant can still perform past relevant work, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. ...