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Terrell Suzette C. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 13, 2019

TERRELL SUZETTE C., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR REMAND

          Thomas M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Terrell Suzette C. seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or the “Commissioner”) denying her applications for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 12), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13), and Plaintiff's “Reply Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment” (ECF No. 14).[2] 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. 12) is GRANTED.

         I

         Background

         On June 6, 2017, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Stewart Goldstein held a hearing where Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 36-78. The ALJ thereafter found on July 21, 2017, that Plaintiff was not disabled from her alleged onset date of disability of January 22, 2014, through the date of the ALJ's decision. R. at 12-34. In so finding, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had moderate limitation in concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace. R. at 20. “[T]he record does not establish a neurocognitive impairment. The moderate limitation with regard to concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace takes into consideration the combined effect of [Plaintiff's] pain secondary to her medically determinable physical impairments on her overall level of functioning.” R. at 20.

         The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)

to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except [Plaintiff] cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. [Plaintiff] can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Her ability to remember and understand detailed instructions, to maintain concentration and attention for extended periods, to perform duties with consistent pace and persistence, and to adapt to change in the work setting are impaired by her depression that affects her energy and motivation. Thus, she is limited to performing simple, routine tasks where she does not have to work at a production rate pace, as you would typically find on an assembly line or in piecework, and she would need a break of about fifteen minutes approximately every two hours. Due to her problems with persistence and pace, she would only be able to function at between 90 and 95% of the efficiency of an unimpaired worker.

R. at 21.[3] In light of this RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that, although she could not perform her past relevant work as an information clerk, Plaintiff could perform other work, such as an officer helper, clerical checker, or inspector. R at 27-28. The ALJ thus found that Plaintiff was not disabled from January 22, 2014, through July 21, 2017. R. at 29.

         After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, Plaintiff filed on June 26, 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.

         II

         Disability Determinations and Burden of Proof

         The 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).

         To 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).

         First, 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).

         Second, 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).[4]

         Third, 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.

         Fourth, 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), ...


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