United States District Court, D. Maryland
Stephen F. Shea, Esq.
Golshani, Esq. Special Assistant United States Attorney
Social Security Administration Ofc. Of General Counsel
Honorable Gina L. Simms United States Magistrate Judge.
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.
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).
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.
ANALYSIS PERFORMED BY THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE
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).
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).
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.).