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Lorenzo H. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 5, 2019

Lorenzo H.

          Stephen F. Shea, Esq. Elkin & Shea

          Jennifer H. Stinnette, Esq. Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security Administration


          Honorable Gina L. Simms United States Magistrate Judge.

         Dear Counsel:

         Pending before this Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 14, 16). The Court must uphold the Social Security Administration's 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.” Chater, 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, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth above, the court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, and GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income on April 3, 2014, and Title XVI application for Supplemental Security Income Benefits on October 1, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of March 12, 1991. (Tr. 15). This claim was initially denied on January 14, 2015, and upon reconsideration on June 1, 2015. (Id.). Plaintiff's request for a hearing was granted and the hearing was scheduled for March 7, 2017 before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id.). Plaintiff did not appear at the hearing, but Edna Madden, Plaintiff's attorney, appeared on his behalf. (Tr. 35). Plaintiff failed to present good cause for missing the hearing. (Tr. 15). On June 28, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding the Plaintiff was not disabled within meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 12). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 23, 2018, making the ALJ's decision the final reviewable decision of the Agency. (Tr. 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 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 had 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 Function Capacity (“RFC”), i.e., the most the claimant could do despite their limitations, through consideration of claimant'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 he is 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).

         The ALJ found that during the relevant time frame, Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: “residual effects of T11 and T12 thoracic fractures and surgical intervention; degenerative disc disease and dissection of the cervical spine; degenerative changes and scoliosis of lumbosacral spine; osteoarthrosis/osteoarthritis; and bipolar disorder/depression.” (Tr. 18). Despite those severe impairments, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the RFC to:

perform light work . . . except no more than occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing of ladders/ropes/scaffolds/ramps/stairs. The Plaintiff must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, dusts, odors, and gases. He is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks. He can tolerate no production rate for pace of work. (Tr. 19).
After considering testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform (e.g., pre-assembler for printed circuit boards, inspector, and assembler). (Tr. 23-25). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 24).

         III. ...

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