United States District Court, D. Maryland
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S
ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR REMAND
M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge
Danell C.-J. seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Defendant” or the
“Commissioner”) denying her application for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment and alternative motion for remand (ECF No.
17) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
Plaintiff contends that the administrative record does not
contain substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's decision that she is not disabled. No.
hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons that
follow, Plaintiff's alternative motion for remand (ECF
No. 17) is GRANTED.
March 29, 2017, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Charles Woode held a hearing where Plaintiff and a vocational
expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 12-31. The ALJ
thereafter found on April 18, 2017, that Plaintiff was not
disabled from her alleged onset date of disability of May 2,
2013, through the date of the ALJ's decision. R. at
56-76. In so finding, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had
moderate limitations in concentrating, persisting, or
maintaining pace. R. at 63. The ALJ then found that Plaintiff
had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
that she can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and
climb ramps or stairs. She cannot climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. She should avoid even moderate exposure to
temperature extremes and pulmonary irritants. Mentally, she
is capable of performing simple, routine, and repetitive
tasks. She can have occasional or superficial interaction
with co-workers and supervisors but no contact with the
R. at 63-64. In light of this RFC and the VE's
testimony, the ALJ found that, although Plaintiff could not
perform her past relevant work, she could perform other work,
such as a hand packer, assembler, or sorter. R. at 69-70. The
ALJ thus found that Plaintiff was not disabled from May 2,
2013, through April 18, 2017. R. at 70-71.
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review, Plaintiff filed on April 24, 2018, a complaint in
this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.
Upon the parties' consent, this case was transferred to a
United States Magistrate Judge for final disposition and
entry of judgment. The case then was reassigned to the
undersigned. The parties have briefed the issues, and the
matter is now fully submitted.
Determinations and Burden of Proof
Social Security Act defines a disability as the inability to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can
be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505, 416.905. A
claimant has a disability when the claimant 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 either in the region where such
individual lives or in several regions of the country.”
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
determine whether a claimant has a disability within the
meaning of the Social Security Act, the Commissioner follows
a five-step sequential evaluation process outlined in the
regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
see Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 24-25, 124
S.Ct. 376, 379-80 (2003). “If at any step a finding of
disability or nondisability can be made, the [Commissioner]
will not review the claim further.” Thomas,
540 U.S. at 24, 124 S.Ct. at 379; see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The claimant has
the burden of production and proof at steps one through four.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5, 107
S.Ct. 2287, 2294 n.5 (1987); Radford v. Colvin, 734
F.3d 288, 291 (4th Cir. 2013).
the Commissioner will consider a claimant's work
activity. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i).
if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the Commissioner looks to see whether the claimant
has a “severe” impairment, i.e., an impairment or
combination of impairments that significantly limits the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th
Cir. 1995); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c),
404.1521(a), 416.920(c), 416.921(a).
if the claimant has a severe impairment, then the
Commissioner will consider the medical severity of the
impairment. If the impairment meets or equals one of the
presumptively disabling impairments listed in the
regulations, then the claimant is considered disabled,
regardless of age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 404.1520(d),
416.920(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(d); see Radford, 734
F.3d at 293.
if the claimant's impairment is severe, but it does not
meet or equal one of the presumptively disabling impairments,
then the Commissioner will assess the claimant's RFC to
determine the claimant's “ability to meet the
physical, mental, sensory, and other requirements” of
the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1545(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4)(iv),
416.945(a)(4). RFC is a measurement of the most a claimant
can do despite his or her limitations. Hines v.
Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 562 (4th Cir. 2006);
see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1),
416.945(a)(1). The claimant is responsible for providing
evidence the Commissioner will use to make a finding as to
the claimant's RFC, but the Commissioner is responsible
for developing the claimant's “complete medical
history, including arranging for a consultative
examination(s) if necessary, and making every reasonable
effort to help [the claimant] get medical reports from [the
claimant's] own medical sources.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1545(a)(3), 416.945(a)(3). The Commissioner
also will consider certain non-medical evidence and other
evidence listed in the regulations. See Id. If a
claimant retains the RFC to perform past relevant work, then
the claimant is not disabled. Id. §§
if the claimant's RFC as determined in step four will not
allow the claimant to perform past relevant work, then the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there is
other work that the claimant can do, given the claimant's
RFC as determined at step four, age, education, and work
experience. See Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470,
472-73 (4th Cir. 2012). The Commissioner must prove not only
that the claimant's RFC will allow the claimant to make
an adjustment to other work, but also that the other work
exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
See Walls, 296 F.3d at 290; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can make
an adjustment to other work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy, then the Commissioner will
find that the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant
cannot make an adjustment to other work, then the
Commissioner will find that the claimant is disabled. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).
Court reviews an ALJ's decision to determine whether the
ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the
factual findings are supported by substantial evidence.
See Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir.
1996). In other words, the issue before the Court “is
not whether [Plaintiff] is disabled, but whether the
ALJ's finding that [Plaintiff] is not disabled is
supported by substantial evidence and was reached based upon
a correct application of the relevant law.”
Id. The Court's review is deferential, as
“[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security
as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall
be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Under this
standard, substantial evidence is less than a preponderance
but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate
to support the Commissioner's conclusion. See
Hancock, 667 F.3d at 472; see also Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971).
evaluating the evidence in an appeal of a denial of benefits,
the court does “not conduct a de novo review
of the evidence, ” Smith v. Schweiker, 795
F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986), or undertake to reweigh
conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Hancock, 667 F.3d at 472. Rather, “[t]he duty
to resolve conflicts in the evidence rests with the ALJ, not
with a reviewing court.” Smith v. Chater, 99
F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996). When conflicting evidence
allows reasonable minds to differ as ...