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Isaac B. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 11, 2019

Isaac B.

          Paul R. Schlitz, Jr., Esq. Mering & Schlitz LLC

          Stacey W. Harris, Esq. Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security Administration


         Dear Counsel:

         Pending before this Court, by the parties' consent, are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 13, 18). The Court must uphold the Social Security Administration's (“SSA” or “Agency”) 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.” Craig, 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, including Plaintiff's Reply memorandum (ECF No. 19), the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. Local Rule (“L.R.”) 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is DENIED and Defendant's motion is GRANTED. Pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the judgment of the SSA is AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed a Title II Application for Disability Insurance Benefits on July 23, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of April 11, 2013. (Tr. 110). This claim was initially denied on January 29, 2014, and upon reconsideration, denied again on November 21, 2014. (Id.). Plaintiff's request for a hearing was granted and the hearing was conducted on April 27, 2016 by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).[2] (Tr. 12; 52; 109). On October 31, 2016, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was disabled under § 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act starting on June 15, 2016. (Tr. 106-133). Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff should be entitled to benefits beginning on that date. (Tr. 126-27). On November 27, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, and the ALJ's decision became the final and reviewable decision of the SSA. (Tr. 1-5). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff has a right of further review after the ALJ's decision becomes final and thus, filed his claim in this Court. (ECF No. 1).


         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 as 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 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 residual functional capacity (“RFC”), i.e., the most the claimant could do despite their limitations, through consideration of Plaintiff'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.

         In this case, the ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process. The ALJ found that, prior to April 11, 2013, the Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus; status-post left occipital ischemic stroke/cerebral vascular accident; right homonymous hemianopia; cataracts; gastroesophageal reflux disease/esophageal reflux; hiatal hernia; hepatitis C; alcoholic gastritis; pancreatitis; bipolar disorder; depression; anxiety; alcohol abuse; opiate dependence; cocaine dependence; and seizures. (Tr. 113). Considering those impairments, the ALJ determined that, prior to June 15, 2016[3] Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform medium work, but such work requiring only “occasional near and occasional far acuity and occasional peripheral vision.” (Tr. 117). Following the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that, although Plaintiff had no relevant work history, Plaintiff was capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that existed in the national economy. (Tr. 125). Plaintiff was found not to be disabled prior to June 15, 2016. The ALJ found Plaintiff to be entitled to benefits after this date. (Tr. 126-27).

         The issue before this Court is not whether the Plaintiff is disabled, but whether the ALJ's finding that he is not disabled before June 15, 2016 is supported by substantial evidence. Craig, 76 F.3d at 589; 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's determination that he was not so disabled is erroneous. (ECF No. 13-1). The SSA counters that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the final decision is supported by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 18).


         A. Substantial Evidence Exists to Support ALJ's Disability ...

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