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Yvette J. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 5, 2019

Yvette J.
v.
Saul[1]

          Stephen F. Shea, Esq.

          Leah Golshani, Esq. Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security Administration Ofc. Of General Counsel

          ORDER

          Honorable Gina L. Simms United States Magistrate Judge.

         Dear Counsel:

         Pending before this Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 19, 21). Acourt must uphold the Social Security Administration's (“SSA” or “the Agency”) decision if it 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. A 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, this Court finds that no hearing is necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, both Motions are DENIED and the SSA's judgment is remanded for further consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed a Title II Application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Title XVI application for Supplemental Security Income Benefits on April 3, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2010. (Tr. 30). The SSA denied Plaintiff's application initially on June 18, 2014, and upon reconsideration, denied it again on September 25, 2014. (Id.). The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) granted Plaintiff's request for a hearing and conducted it on August 28, 2015. (Id.). At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to December 1, 2013. (Id.). On October 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Id.). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final, reviewable decision of the Agency. (Tr. 1-3).

         The Plaintiff appealed that decision to this Court. (Tr. 863-64). This Court granted remand and issued its order on March 31, 2017. (Tr. 848). Pursuant the District Court's remand, the Appeals Council asked the ALJ to consider further “the claimant's mental impairments in accordance with the special technique, ” “give further consideration to the claimant's maximum residual functional capacity, ” and “consolidate the claimant's Title II and subsequent Title XVI claims files.)” (Tr. 764). The ALJ granted Plaintiff's request for a hearing, which was heldon November 29, 2017. (Id.). On January 3, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time period. (Tr. 761; 774). This finding became the final and renewable decision of the Commissioner.

         II. ANALYSIS PERFORMED BY THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE

         In deciding to deny Plaintiff's claim, the ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process regarding disability set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. See also Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015). The steps used by the ALJ were as follows: step one, assess whether Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date; step two, determine whether Plaintiff's impairments met the severity and durations requirements found in the regulations; step three, ascertain whether Plaintiff's medical impairment met or equaled an impairment listed in the regulations, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (“the Listings”); step four, analyze whether Plaintiff could perform her past work, given the limitations caused by her impairments; and at step five, analyze whether Plaintiff could perform any work. (Tr. 31-40). Because the first three steps did not yield a conclusive determination, the ALJ also assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”)-i.e., the “most the claimant ‘c[ould] still do despite, physical and mental limitations that affect[ed] her ability to work”-by considering all of Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments, regardless of their severity. See Mascio, at 635 (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1)). Per Mascio, Plaintiff bore the burden of proof through the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. 780 F.3d at 636. Upon making the requisite showing, the burden shifted to the Agency at step five to prove that Plaintiff could perform other work that “exist[ed] in significant numbers in the national economy, ” in light of her “[RFC], age, education and work experience.” Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 862 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal citations omitted).

         Here, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments beginning on February 14, 2014: a mental impairment variously diagnosed as depression, anxiety, panic disorder without agoraphobia, bipolar II disorder, parent-child relational problem, and agoraphobia with panic attacks and vascular headaches. (Tr. 766-67). Recognizing those severe impairments, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to:

perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: [she] can perform no more than simple, 1-4 step routine, repetitive tasks in a less stress work environment, defined as requiring only occasional decision making and occasional changes in work setting, where there would be occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors and no contact with the general public, and which would not require fast pace production quotas such as would customarily be found on an assembly line. (Tr. 769).

         At the hearing, a vocational expert (“VE”) testified about whether a hypothetical person with the same limitations as the Plaintiff could perform Plaintiff's prior work as a daycare provider or receptionist. (Tr. 772). The VE testified that the hypothetical person could not, but could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy e.g., an institutional cleaner, a janitor/industrial cleaner, a linen room attendant, a housekeeping cleaner, a sorter, a sorter/examiner, and an addressing clerk. (Tr. 773). Therefore, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.).

         III. ...


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