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Tiffany M. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

April 15, 2019

TIFFANY M., 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 Tiffany M. seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or the “Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 14) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15).[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 April 14, 2017, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Theodore W. Annos held a hearing where Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 30-54. The ALJ thereafter found on June 1, 2017, that Plaintiff was not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of April 13, 2014, through the date of the ALJ's decision. R. at 11-29. In so finding, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)

to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except she can never crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and climb ramps or stairs; occasionally push and pull with the upper and lower extremities; occasionally reach overhead and frequently reach in all other directions; occasional exposure to vibration and work hazards (such as unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts and motor vehicles); must work in a moderate noise intensity level or quieter and where the levels of illumination are no brighter than that found in a typical office setting; and requires the use of a cane.

R. at 18. In light of this RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that, although Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work as a photo technician, shampoo girl, and cashier, she was capable of performing other work, such as an order clerk or telephone quotation clerk. R at 23-24. The ALJ thus found that Plaintiff was not disabled from April 13, 2014, through June 1, 2017. R. at 24.

         After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, Plaintiff filed on June 14, 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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