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RHonda Rae S. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 27, 2019

RHONDA RAE S., 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 Rhonda Rae S. 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. 14), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15), and Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18).[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. 14) is GRANTED.

         I

         Background

         On February 3, 2015, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Francine L. Applewhite held a hearing in Baltimore, Maryland, where Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 65-91. The ALJ thereafter found on May 5, 2015, that Plaintiff was not disabled from her alleged onset date of disability of September 10, 2010, through the date of the ALJ's decision. R. at 14-33. In so finding, the ALJ found that, with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace, Plaintiff had moderate difficulties. R. at 20.

[Plaintiff] testified and reported memory and concentration difficulties. [Plaintiff] testified that she experiences sleep disturbances and has poor concentration. However, [Plaintiff] testified that she has looked for jobs but has been unsuccessful, and that she should be able to follow simple instructions. In addition, she retains sufficient concentration to drive, handle finances and perform her current household tasks. Overall, the impairment in concentration, persistence or pace is not more than moderate.

R. at 20 (citation omitted).

         The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) “to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: work in a low stress job defined as occasional decision-making and occasional interaction with the public, co-workers or supervisors.” R. at 21. In light of this RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that, although Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work as an acoustical carpenter, construction worker, and delivery route truck driver, she was capable of performing other work, such as a mail sorter or addresser. R. at 24-25. Plaintiff thus was not disabled from September 10, 2010, through May 5, 2015. R. at 26.

         After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, Plaintiff filed on February 19, 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 ...


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