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Shuntus W. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 7, 2019

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR REMAND

          Thomas M. DiGirolamo, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Shuntus W. seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or the “Commissioner”) denying her applications for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 16) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17).[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, Plaintiff's alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 16) is GRANTED.

         I

         Background

         On September 1, 2016, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Michael Krasnow held a hearing in Washington, D.C., where Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 54-88. The ALJ thereafter found on May 11, 2017, that Plaintiff was not disabled from her alleged onset date of disability of May 1, 2012, through the date of the ALJ's decision. R. at 20-41. In so finding, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)

to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except [she] must never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, and frequently reach overhead with the right upper extremity. [Plaintiff] must avoid moderate exposure to hazards, such as moving machinery and unprotected heights. [Plaintiff] is limited to jobs involving simple, routine, repetitive tasks with no production rate for pace of work, and occasional interaction with coworkers and the general public.

R. at 28. In light of this RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that, although Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work as a physical education teacher, she was capable of performing other work, such as a router, office helper, or non-postal mail clerk. R at 33-35. The ALJ thus found that Plaintiff was not disabled from May 1, 2012, through May 11, 2017. R. at 35.

         After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, Plaintiff filed on February 10, 2018, 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 ...


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