United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
AMANDA M. SMITH, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant.
CHARLES B. DAY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
M. Smith (“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. Before the Court are Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment (“Plaintiff's
Motion”) (ECF No. 18) and Commissioner's Motion for
Summary Judgment (“Commissioner's Motion”)
(ECF No. 19). 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,
DENIES Commissioner's Motion, and
REVERSES and REMANDS this
matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
A separate order will issue.
November 8, 2013, Plaintiff filed for DIB under Title II. R.
13, 111, 123. Plaintiff alleged disability beginning May 15,
2013. R. 13, 111, 123. Plaintiff alleged disability due to
depression, anxiety disorder with panic attacks, panic
disorder, stressor induced disorder, PTSD, and migraines. R.
36, 39, 49, 111, 123. Plaintiff's claim was initially
denied on January 10, 2014, and upon reconsideration on July
21, 2014. R. 13, 111-21, 123-36, 138-41, 145-46. On October
7, 2014, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. R.
13, 147-48. A hearing was originally held on May 12, 2016. R.
33, 58-93. However, due to the unavailability of that
presiding-Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), a
second hearing was held on August 2, 2017. R. 13, 33. On
September 15, 2017, Plaintiff's claim was denied by the
ALJ who conducted the second hearing. R. 13. Plaintiff sought
review by the Appeals Council, which concluded on December
14, 2017, that there was no basis for granting the Request
for Review. R. 1-3, 200-01.
Standard of Review
appeal, the Court has the power to affirm, modify, or reverse
the decision of the 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 F. App'x, 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 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) (2012). The Code of Federal
Regulations outlines a five-step process that the
Commissioner must follow to determine if a claimant meets
1) Determine whether the plaintiff is “doing
substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(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], or a
combination of impairments that is severe and meets the
duration requirement.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(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)
(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) (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) (2012). If she can perform
other work, she is not disabled. If she cannot, she is
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). 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). 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 of the ...