United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
CHARLES B. DAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
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.
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.
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.
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. §§
404.1505(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
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).
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
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
[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.
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.
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 ...