Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Andre M. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 27, 2019

ANDRE M., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL,[1] Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES B. DAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Andre M. (“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 claims 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. 13, and Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Commissioner's Motion”), ECF No. 14. The Court has reviewed the motions, the 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, 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 will issue.

         I. Procedural Background

         The instant proceeding represents Plaintiff's second application for DIB and SSI. Plaintiff filed for DIB under Title II and SSI under Title XVI for the first time on January 22, 2007. R. 114. Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on May 8, 2007 and denied after reconsideration on August 7, 2007. R. 114. An administrative hearing was held on January 23, 2009, R. 114, and on May 12, 2009, an ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled and denied his claims, R. 126.

         On October 19, 2015, Plaintiff filed his second claim for DIB under Title II and SSI under Title XVI. R. 127-46, 172. Plaintiff alleged disability beginning January 1, 2005. R. 128, 138, 172. Plaintiff alleged disability due to hyperlipidemia (not elsewhere classifiable), chronic viral hepatitis C (without hepatic coma), human immunodeficiency virus (“HIV”), Bipolar I Disorder, tinea pedis, hypertension (benign essential), rhinitis, abnormal blood findings, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), anxiety, and depression. R. 127, 137. Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on March 2, 2016, and upon reconsideration on May 19, 2016. R. 136, 146, 149-66, 172. A video hearing was held on April 10, 2017. R. 127, 172. On July 5, 2017, Plaintiff's claims were denied. R. 181. Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council, which concluded on April 18, 2018, that there was no basis for granting the Request for Review. R. 1-7. Plaintiff appealed that decision by filing the instant proceeding on June 6, 2018. ECF No. 1.

         II. Standard of Review

         On 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 substantial evidence.”).

         The 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).

         The 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 this definition:

1) Determine whether the plaintiff is “doing substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a) (2012). If he is doing such activity, he is not disabled. If he 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), 416.905(a) (2012). If he does not have such impairment or combination of impairments, he is not disabled. If he does meet these requirements, proceed to step three.
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. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a (2012). If he does have such impairment, he is disabled. If he 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. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a), 416.920(e), and 416.945 (2012). If he can perform such work, he is not disabled. If he cannot, proceed to step five.
5) Determine whether the plaintiff can perform other work, considering his RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a) (2012). If he can perform other work, he is not disabled. If he cannot, he is disabled.

         Plaintiff has the burden to prove that he 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).

         The RFC 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), 416.905(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 Cir. 1979)).

         III. Analysis

         In this matter, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's claims using the five-step sequential evaluation process. R. 175-81. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2005, the date he alleged his disability commenced. R. 175. At step two, under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “hepatitis C virus with stage 2 fibrosis, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), diabetes mellitus, hypertension, coronary artery disease, chronic left leg spasms, mood disorder, and polysubstance abuse.” R. 174. The ALJ found the aforementioned impairments to be severe as “each of these impairments [had] a more than minimal impact on the Plaintiff's ability to perform basic work activities . . . .” Id. Plaintiff alleged that he also suffered from obesity, allergies, and asthma, but the ALJ noted those were “non-severe” because Plaintiff's weight did not appear to have an effect on his other impairments and the asthma and allergies caused “no complaints, need for hospitalization, or other concerns.” Id. In step three, 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. 176. At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b), with the following limitations:

[Plaintiff] can occasionally climb ramps and stairs and never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [Plaintiff] requires the use of a cane, only for prolonged ambulation or over uneven terrain. He is able to perform simple and repetitive work.

R. 177. The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work as a “Commercial Cleaner.” R. 179. In coming to this conclusion, the ALJ relied upon the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”). Id. With the help of testimony from the VE, the ALJ concluded that “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform.” R. 180. Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims for DIB and SSI were denied. R. 181.

         On appeal, Plaintiff requests that the Court grant summary judgment in his favor or, in the alternative, reverse and remand this matter to the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) for a new administrative hearing. Pl.'s Mem. 16. For the reasons set forth below, the Court hereby DENIES Plaintiff's Motion, DENIES Commissioner's Motion, REVERSES the ALJ's decision in part and REMANDS the matter for further proceedings.

         A. The ALJ erred in his evaluation of Plaintiff's obesity, but the error was ultimately harmless as Plaintiff failed to meet his burden to submit ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.