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Custer v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 26, 2018

SARAH CUSTER, 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 Sarah Custer 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 her application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 20).[2] Plaintiff contends that the administrative record does not contain substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision that she is not disabled. No hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 20) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         I Background

         On March 30, 2016, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) O. Price Dodson found that Plaintiff was not disabled since the application date of December 31, 2013. R. at 6-23. In so finding, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's Crohn's disease was a severe impairment but found that

[t]he medical evidence of record does not support the extent of [Plaintiff's] allegations, especially [her] allegation that she has remained in bed for the past nine years except to eat and use the bathroom. The undersigned notes that there are no reports of muscle wasting or atrophy in the record to support this allegation. At the hearing, the undersigned observed that [Plaintiff] had no difficulty walking in and out of the hearing room. Of note is that the record reflects [Plaintiff] did not appear using an assistive ambulatory device at office visits. [Plaintiff's] progress notes reflect normal psychiatric clinical examination findings, even when [Plaintiff] reported pain during Crohn's flares.

R. at 11, 13.

         The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) “to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except [Plaintiff] can only occasionally bend, stoop, or crouch.” R. at 12. The ALJ found that, although she had no past relevant work, Plaintiff was capable of performing other work, such as an assembler, document preparer, or food and beverage order clerk. R. at 18.

         On April 29, 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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