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Kimberley B. v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 4, 2019

Kimberley B.
v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec.[1]

          Stephen Shea, Esq.

          Cassia W. Parson, Esq. Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security Administration, Ofc. Of General Counsel

          HONORABLE GINA L. SIMMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Dear Counsel:

         Pending before this Court are cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 13, 14). The Court must uphold the Social Security Administration (“SSA” or “the Agency”)'s decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the Agency employed proper legal standards. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3) (2016); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). The substantial evidence rule “consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Chater, 76 F.3d at 589. This Court shall not “re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment” for that of the SSA. Id. Upon review of the pleadings and the record, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, I will deny the motions, reverse the Commissioner's decision in part, and remand the case to the Commissioner for further consideration.

         Plaintiff filed a claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) on September 27, 2013, alleging an onset of disability on April 1, 1996.[2] (Tr. 26). Plaintiff's application was denied initially (December 6, 2013), and upon reconsideration (June 4, 2015), by the SSA. (Tr. 92- 98). On July 31, 2014, Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was conducted on March 17, 2016, before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 43). On April 21, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 26-39). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 8, 2017, making the ALJ's decision the final reviewable decision of the Agency. (Tr.1-6).

         On appeal to this Court, Plaintiff advances two arguments. First, that the ALJ failed to set forth a sufficient narrative that outlined how the evidence supported her assessment of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 13-1, pp. 6-8). Second, that the ALJ did not properly evaluate Plaintiff's subjective complaints. (ECF No. 13-1, pp. 8-10). Defendant counters that the ALJ's RFC analysis and assessment of Plaintiff's complaints are supported by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 14, pp 6-18).

         I. ANALYSIS TO BE PERFORMED BY THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE

         The Social Security Act defines disability 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). An individual is deemed to have a disability if their “physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he 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 in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         To determine whether a person has a disability, the ALJ engages in the five-step sequential evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 415.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v); 416.920. See e.g., Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987); Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015). The steps used by the ALJ are as follows: step one, assesses whether a claimant had engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date; step two, determine whether a claimant's impairments meet the severity and durations requirements found in the regulations; step three, ascertain whether a claimant's medical impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in the regulations (“the Listings”). If the first three steps are not conclusive, the ALJ assesses the claimant's RFC, i.e., the most the claimant could do despite their limitations, through consideration of claimant's “‘medically determinable impairments of which [the ALJ is] aware', including those not labeled severe at step two.” Mascio, 780 F.3d at 635 (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)). At step four, the ALJ analyzes whether a claimant could perform past work, given the limitations caused by her impairments; and at step five, the ALJ analyzes whether a claimant could perform any work. At steps one through four, it is the claimant's burden to show that they are disabled. See Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 179-80 (4th Cir. 2016). If the ALJ's evaluation moves to step five, the burden then shifts to the SSA to prove that a claimant has the ability to perform work and therefore, is not disabled. Id. at 180.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. NARRATIVE DISCUSSION OF RFC FINDINGS

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in performing the function-by-function assessment because she failed to “set forth a narrative discussion setting forth how the evidence supported each conclusion citing to specific medical facts and nonmedical evidence.” (ECF No. 13-1, p. 6).

         When assessing a claimant's RFC, the law requires an ALJ to consider all of the claimant's medically determinable impairments, including any medically determinable impairments that are not “severe.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.925(a)(2). The ALJ considers any inconsistencies in the evidence and the extent to which there are any conflicts between a claimant's statements and the rest of the evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(4). An ALJ will determine if a claimant's symptoms will diminish his or her capacity for basic work activities, subject to them being consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence. Id. An ALJ's RFC determination should include a “narrative discussion describing how the evidence supports each conclusion citing specific medical facts . . . and nonmedical evidence.” Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *7 (July 2, 1996). The Fourth Circuit has recently held that a “proper RFC analysis has three components: (1) evidence; (2) logical explanation, and (3) conclusion. The second component, the ALJ's logical explanation is just as important as the ...


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