United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
Charles B. Day United States Magistrate Judge.
Jackson (“Plaintiff”) brought this action under
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”). The Commissioner
denied Plaintiff's claim for a period of Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the
Social Security Act and for Supplemental Security Income
Benefits (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment (“Plaintiff's Motion”) (ECF
No. 12) and Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment
(“Commissioner's Motion”) (ECF No. 13). The
Court has reviewed the motions, related memoranda, and the
applicable law. No. hearing is deemed necessary. See
Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons presented below,
the Court hereby DENIES Plaintiff's
Motion and DENIES Commissioner's Motion,
and REMANDS the Administrative Law
Judge's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for
August 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed for DIB under Title II and
SSI under Title XVI, alleging disability beginning November
1, 2009, which was later amended to January 8, 2013. R. 41,
59. Plaintiff alleged disability due to joint dysfunction of
the knees, obesity, degenerative disc disease, bipolar
disorder, past substance abuse, right testicular pain,
hypertension and seasonal allergies. R. 43-44.
Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on September 13,
2013 and upon reconsideration on April 10, 2014. R. 41. An
administrative hearing was held on July 28, 2016, R. 56-72,
and on August 16, 2016, the claim was denied. R. 38.
Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council, which
concluded on July 25, 2017, that there was no basis for
granting the Request for Review. R. 1.
Standard of Review
appeal, the Court has the power to affirm, modify, or reverse
the decision of the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) “with or without remanding the
cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2015).
The Court must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is
supported by substantial evidence and the ALJ applied the
correct law. Id. (“The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.”);
see also Russell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 440
Fed.Appx. 163, 164 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990)).
“In other words, if the ALJ has done his or her job
correctly and supported the decision reached with substantial
evidence, this Court cannot overturn the decision, even if it
would have reached a contrary result on the same
evidence.” Schoofield v. Barnhart, 220
F.Supp.2d 512, 515 (D. Md. 2002). Substantial evidence is
“more than a mere scintilla.” Russell,
440 Fed.Appx. at 164. “It means such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)); see also
Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (quoting Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (“It consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance. If there is evidence to justify a refusal to
direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is
Court does not review the evidence presented below de
novo, nor does the Court “determine the weight of
the evidence” or “substitute its judgment for
that of the Secretary if his decision is supported by
substantial evidence.” Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456
(citations omitted); see also Blalock v. Richardson,
483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972) (“[T]he language of
§ 205(g) precludes a de novo judicial
proceeding and requires that the court uphold the
Secretary's decision even should the court disagree with
such decision as long as it is supported by
‘substantial evidence.'”). The ALJ, not the
Court, has the responsibility to make findings of fact and
resolve evidentiary conflicts. Hays, 907 F.2d, at
1456 (citations omitted). If the ALJ's factual finding,
however, “was reached by means of an improper standard
or misapplication of the law, ” then that finding is
not binding on the Court. Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d
514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted).
Commissioner shall find a person legally disabled under Title
II and Title XVI if she is unable “to do 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.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a)
(2012). The Code of Federal Regulations outlines a five-step
process that the Commissioner must follow to determine if a
claimant meets this definition:
1) Determine whether the plaintiff is “doing
substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i) (2012). If she is doing
such activity, she is not disabled. If she is not doing such
activity, proceed to step two.
2) Determine whether the plaintiff has a “severe
medically determinable physical or mental impairment that
meets the duration requirement in § [404.1509/416.909],
or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the
duration requirement.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii) (2012). If she does not
have such impairment or combination of impairments, she is
not disabled. If she does meet these requirements, proceed to
3) Determine whether the plaintiff has an impairment that
“meets or equals one of [the C.F.R.'s] listings in
appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration
requirement.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii) (2012). If she does
have such impairment, she is disabled. If she does not,
proceed to step four.
4) Determine whether the plaintiff retains the
“residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”) to perform “past relevant
work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv),
416.920(a)(4)(iv) (2012). If she can perform such work, she
is not disabled. If she cannot, proceed to step five.
5) Determine whether the plaintiff can perform other work,
considering her RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v)
(2012). If she can perform other work, she is not disabled.
If she cannot, she is disabled.
has the burden to prove that she is disabled at steps one
through four, and Commissioner has the burden to prove that
Plaintiff is not disabled at step five. Hunter v.
Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 35 (4th Cir. 1992).
is an assessment that represents the most a claimant can
still do despite any physical and mental limitations on a
“regular and continuing basis.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1545(b)-(c), 416.945(b)-(c). In making this
assessment, the ALJ must consider all relevant evidence of
the claimant's impairments and any related symptoms.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545 (a), 416.945
(a). The ALJ must present a “narrative discussion
describing how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing
specific medical facts (e.g. laboratory findings) and
nonmedical evidence (e.g. daily activities, observations),
” and must then “explain how any material
inconsistencies or ambiguities in the evidence in the case
record were considered and resolved.” SSR 96-8p, 1996
WL 374184 at *7 (S.S.A.). “Ultimately, it is the duty