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Clarke v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 26, 2018

MICHAEL CLARKE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Thomas M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Michael Clarke seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or the “Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 19).[2] Plaintiff contends that the administrative record does not contain substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision that he is not disabled. No hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 19) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         I Background

         On December 23, 2015, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Jennifer M. Long found that Plaintiff was not disabled from April 4, 2012, through the date of her decision. R. at 7-20. In so finding, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's sleep apnea, obesity, and spine disorders were severe impairments. R. at 13. The ALJ found, however, that Plaintiff's diabetes mellitus, acute venous embolism and thrombosis of unspecified deep vessels of the lower extremity, lung disease, acute respiratory failure, acute kidney failure, and muscle weakness were not severe impairments. R. at 13. The ALJ noted, among other things, that a physical examination showed edema in both extremities and an ulcer, but other physical examinations showed normal circulation. R. at 13.

         The ALJ then found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. R. at 13. The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)

to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except lifting and carrying twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; standing and walking four hours, sitting six hours in an eight-hour work day, alternating between sitting and standing every hour; never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, occasionally climbing ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; and he must avoid even moderate exposure to hazards such as machinery and heights.

R. at 13. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work as an auto parts counter worker. R. at 16.

         On January 12, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. Upon the parties' consent, this case was transferred to a United States Magistrate Judge for final disposition and entry of judgment. The case then was reassigned to the undersigned. The parties have briefed the issues, and the matter is now fully submitted.

         II Disability Determinations and Burden of Proof

         The Social Security Act defines a disability as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505, 416.905. A claimant has a disability when the claimant is “not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists . . . in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         To determine whether a claimant has a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act, the Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process outlined in the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 24-25, 124 S.Ct. 376, 379-80 (2003). “If 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, 124 S.Ct. at 379; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The claimant has the burden of production and proof at steps one through four. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 2294 n.5 (1987); Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 291 (4th Cir. 2013).

         First, the Commissioner will consider a claimant's work activity. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i).

         Second, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner looks to see whether the claimant has a “severe” impairment, i.e., an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 404.1521(a), 416.920(c), 416.921(a).[3]

         Third, if the claimant has a severe impairment, then the Commissioner will consider the medical severity of the impairment. If the impairment meets or equals one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the regulations, then the claimant is considered disabled, regardless of age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ ...


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