United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
CHARLES B. DAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
F. (“Plaintiff”) brought this action under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”). The Commissioner
denied Plaintiff's claim for a period of Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the
Social Security Act and for Supplemental Security Income
Benefits (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment (“Plaintiff's Motion”), ECF
No. 17, and Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment
(“Commissioner's Motion”), ECF No. 18. The
Court has reviewed the motions, related memoranda, and the
applicable law. No. hearing is deemed necessary. See
Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons presented below, the
Court hereby DENIES Plaintiff's Motion,
DENIES Commissioner's Motion, and
REVERSES and REMANDS the
Administrative Law Judge's decision pursuant to the
fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion. A separate order
1, 2015, Plaintiff filed for DIB under Title II. R. 15, 76,
196-202. On May 5, 2015, Plaintiff filed for SSI under Title
XVI. R. 15, 65, 203-11. For both claims, Plaintiff alleged
disability beginning April 10, 2015. R. 15, 65, 76. Plaintiff
later requested a “closed period of disability”
from April 10, 2015 to January 17, 2017. R. 15, 35. Plaintiff
alleged disability due to post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”) and high blood pressure. R. 65, 76.
Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on November 17,
2015, R. 15, 65-86, and upon reconsideration on April 7,
2016, R. 15, 91-118, 127-30. On June 7, 2016, Plaintiff
requested an administrative hearing. R. 15, 133-32. A hearing
was held before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) on May 24, 2017. R. 15-27. On June 9,
2017, the ALJ denied both of Plaintiff's claims. R.
15-27. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the
Appeals Council, which concluded on April 24, 2018, that
there was no basis for granting Plaintiff's Request for
Review. R. 1-6. Plaintiff appealed that decision by filing
the instant proceeding on June 27, 2018. ECF No. 1.
Standard of Review
appeal, the Court has the power to affirm, modify, or reverse
the decision of the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) “with or without remanding the
cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2019).
The Court must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is
supported by substantial evidence and the ALJ applied the
correct law. Id. (“The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.”);
see also Russell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 440
Fed.Appx. 163, 164 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990)).
“In other words, if the ALJ has done his or her job
correctly and supported the decision reached with substantial
evidence, this Court cannot overturn the decision, even if it
would have reached a contrary result on the same
evidence.” Schoofield v. Barnhart, 220
F.Supp.2d 512, 515 (D. Md. 2002). Substantial evidence is
“more than a mere scintilla.” Russell,
440 Fed.Appx. at 164. “It means such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)); see also
Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (quoting Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (“It consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance. If there is evidence to justify a refusal to
direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is
Court does not review the evidence presented below de
novo, nor does the Court “determine the weight of
the evidence” or “substitute its judgment for
that of the Secretary if his decision is supported by
substantial evidence.” Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456
(citations omitted); see also Blalock v. Richardson,
483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972) (“[T]he language of
§ [405(g)] precludes a de novo judicial
proceeding and requires that the court uphold the
Secretary's decision even should the court disagree with
such decision as long as it is supported by
‘substantial evidence.'”). The ALJ, not the
Court, has the responsibility to make findings of fact and
resolve evidentiary conflicts. Hays, 907 F.2d at
1456 (citations omitted). If the ALJ's factual finding,
however, “was reached by means of an improper standard
or misapplication of the law, ” then that finding is
not binding on the Court. Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d
514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted).
Commissioner shall find a person legally disabled under Title
II and Title XVI if he is unable “to do 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.” 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a) (2012). The Code
of Federal Regulations outlines a five-step process that the
Commissioner must follow to determine if a claimant meets
1) Determine whether the plaintiff is “doing
substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i) (2012). If she is doing
such activity, she is not disabled. If she is not doing such
activity, proceed to step two.
2) Determine whether the plaintiff has a “severe
medically determinable physical or mental impairment that
meets the duration requirement in § [404.1509/416.909],
or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the
duration requirement.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii) (2012). If she does not
have such impairment or combination of impairments, she is
not disabled. If she does meet these requirements, proceed to
3) Determine whether the plaintiff has an impairment that
“meets or equals one of [the C.F.R.'s] listings in
appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration
requirement.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii) (2012). If she does
have such impairment, she is disabled. If she does not,
proceed to step four.
4) Determine whether the plaintiff retains the
“residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”) to perform “past relevant
work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv),
416.920(a)(4)(iv) (2012). If she can perform such work, she
is not disabled. If she cannot, proceed to step five.
5) Determine whether the plaintiff can perform other work,
considering her RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v)
(2012). If she can perform other work, she is not disabled.
If she cannot, she is disabled.
has the burden to prove that she is disabled at steps one
through four, and Commissioner has the burden to prove that
Plaintiff is not disabled at step five. Hunter v.
Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 35 (4th Cir. 1992).
is an assessment that represents the most a claimant can
still do despite any physical and mental limitations on a
“regular and continuing basis.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1545(b)-(c), 416.945(b)-(c). In making this
assessment, the ALJ must consider all relevant evidence of
the claimant's impairments and any related symptoms.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a), 416.945(a).
The ALJ must present a “narrative discussion describing
how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing specific
medical facts (e.g. laboratory findings) and nonmedical
evidence (e.g. daily activities, observations), ” and
must then “explain how any material inconsistencies or
ambiguities in the evidence in the case record were
considered and resolved.” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at
*7 (S.S.A. July 2, 1996). “Ultimately, it is the duty
of the [ALJ] reviewing the case, and not the responsibility
of the courts, to make findings of fact and to resolve
conflicts of evidence.” Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456
(citing King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th
matter, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's claim using the
five-step sequential evaluation process. R. 15-27. At step
one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff engaged in substantial
gainful activity between March 2017 to the date of the
decision. R. 17. However, the ALJ found that “there has
been a continuous 12-month period(s) during which [Plaintiff]
did not engage in substantial gainful activity.” R. 17.
Accordingly, the ALJ's findings addressed those periods
of time. R. 17. At step two, under 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(c), 416.920(c), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: “major depressive
disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD].” R.
18. The ALJ stated that the listed impairments were severe
because they “constitute more than slight abnormalities
and have had more than a minimal effect on the claimant's
ability to perform basic work activities for a continuous
period of 12 months.” R. 18. The ALJ also noted that
Plaintiff suffered from “hypertension and
obesity” but found them to be “non-severe
impairments because they do not even minimally affect
[Plaintiff's] abilit y to carry out basic, work-related
activities.” R. 18. In step three, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff suffered from moderate limitations in
concentration, persistence, or pace. R. 19. Ultimately, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have “an
impairment or a combination of impairments that [met] or
medically equal[ed] the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and
416.926).” R. 18. At step four, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff had the RFC “to perform a full range of work
at all exertional levels, ” but included a number of
She is capable of performing simple, routine, and repetitive
tasks in a work setting with occasional decision-making and
occasional changes in the work setting. She should not work
in an environment with fast pace requirements or high
production quotas. She can have occasional or superficial
interaction with co-workers and supervisors, but no contact
with the public.
R. 20. The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff was unable to
perform any of her past relevant work. R. 20. Relying on the
testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ
concluded that “there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff]
can perform.” R. 25. Accordingly, Plaintiff's
claims for DIB and SSI were denied. R. 27.
appeal, Plaintiff requests that the Court grant summary
judgment in her favor or, in the alternative, remand this
matter to the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) for a new administrative hearing.
Pl.'s Mem. 12-13. For the reasons set forth below, the
Court REVERSES the ALJ's decision and
REMANDS the matter for further proceedings.
The ALJ's assessment of Plaintiff's degree of
functional limitation in concentration, ...