United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
TRAVIS X. C., Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Defendant.
J. HAZEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Travis X. C. seeks judicial review of a final decision of
Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”), finding him not disabled and
denying his application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) pursuant to Title II of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. ECF No.
1. Pending before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment, ECF No. 12,  and the
Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 16,
which were referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M.
DiGirolamo pursuant to Standing Order 2014-01. The Court has
reviewed Judge DiGirolamo's June 7, 2019 Report and
Recommendation (“R&R”), ECF No. 19, the
Commissioner's objections, ECF No. 21, and
Plaintiff's response, ECF No. 22. No hearing is
necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.). For the
reasons that follow, the R&R is adopted in part and
rejected in part, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment
is denied, the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment
is denied, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
Disability Determination Framework
person is legally disabled 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). The relevant Social Security Administration
regulations set forth a comprehensive five-step process for
making a disability determination:
[T]he ALJ asks at step one whether the claimant has been
working; at step two, whether the claimant's medical
impairments meet the regulations' severity and duration
requirements; at step three, whether the medical impairments
meet or equal an impairment listed in the regulations; at
step four, whether the claimant can perform [his] past work
given the limitations caused by [his] medical impairments;
and at step five, whether the claimant can perform other
Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th Cir. 2015).
Before proceeding to steps four and five to determine whether
the claimant can perform any work, the ALJ must assess the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), which is the most the claimant can still
do despite the limitations affecting his ability to work.
See Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 861-62 (4th
Cir. 2017) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1),
416.945(a)(1)). The claimant bears the burden of proof during
the first four steps, but the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. Id. at 861.
filed applications for DIB and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) on June 30, 2010. ECF No. 7-3 at
10. He alleged that he had been disabled
since September 15, 2008, due to a stroke, hypertension,
depression, panic attacks, and degenerative disc disease in
his back, neck, and shoulder. ECF No. 7-4 at 2, 13; ECF No.
7-7 at 3; ECF No. 7-22 at 54. Plaintiff's SSI application
was approved as of June 30, 2010, but the Commissioner denied
his DIB application initially and again upon reconsideration.
ECF No. 7-3 at 10; ECF No. 7-4; ECF No. 7-5 at 2-11; ECF No.
7-16 at 23.
Plaintiff's request, ALJ María Alexander
Nuñez held a hearing on January 18, 2013. ECF No. 7-3
at 7-61. On March 18, 2013, ALJ Nuñez issued another
unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled
between the alleged onset date of his disability- September
15, 2008-and the date he was last insured for benefits-March
31, 2009. Id. at 2-6. Plaintiff appealed ALJ
Nuñez's decision to this Court, which, upon the
Commissioner's consent, remanded the case on January 15,
2014. ECF No. 7-17 at 2-3.
remand, ALJ Theodore P. Kennedy held a second hearing, and on
August 1, 2014, he issued a decision once again finding
Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of
disability through the date last insured. ECF No. 7-16 at
20-46. Plaintiff again appealed to this Court, and on
September 7, 2016, this Court remanded the case to the
Commissioner, holding that the ALJ's decision frustrated
meaningful review. ECF No. 7-23 at 2-23.
remand for the second time, ALJ Melvin G. Olmscheid held a
third hearing. ECF No. 7-22 at 44-110. On June 15, 2017, ALJ
Olmscheid issued a decision finding that Plaintiff (1) had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity from his alleged
onset date of disability through his date late insured; and
(2) had an impairment or a combination of impairments
considered to be “severe” on the basis of the
requirements in the Code of Federal Regulations; but (3) did
not have an impairment or a combination of impairments
meeting or equaling one of the impairments set forth in 20
C.F.R. § 404(P)(1). Id. at 20, 22.
Olmscheid then determined that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to:
[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
he can perform work that only occasionally requires
balancing, stopping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and
climbing (except never requires the use of ladders, ropes,
and scaffolds.) He can perform jobs that allow frequent
exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, and irritants such as
fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poorly ventilated areas. He
needs to avoid hazards. He can perform jobs consisting of
simple (1- to 3-step tasks), routine, and repetitive tasks,
in a work environment without production rate pace, and with
only occasional interaction with co-workers and the public.