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Faye H. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 24, 2019

EDNA FAYE H., 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 Edna H. 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 pro se Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13); Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14); Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment and alternative motion for remand filed by Plaintiff’s counsel (ECF No. 18); “Defendant’s Reply to Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment, ” docketed as Defendant’s response to Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 21); and “Plaintiff’s Response to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, ” docketed as Plaintiff’s reply to Defendant’s response to Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 24).[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. 18) is GRANTED.

         I

         Background

         On January 9, 2017, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Charles Woode held a hearing where Plaintiff pro se and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 83-101. The ALJ thereafter found on February 7, 2017, that Plaintiff was not disabled from her alleged onset date of disability of January 1, 2004, through the date last insured of June 30, 2005. R. at 66-82. In so finding, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff’s “symptoms do not support listing 1.02, ” her “impairments do not meet or equal Social Security listing 1.04, ” and her “symptoms [do] not satisfy a cardiac listing (4.00).” R. at 72. The ALJ then found that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) “to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. She cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can frequently handle bilaterally. She must avoid concentrated exposure to humidity, extreme temperatures, vibrations, and hazards.” R. at 72.[3] In light of this RFC and the VE’s testimony, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, she could perform work in the national economy such as an information clerk, order clerk, or sorter. R. at 76-77. The ALJ thus found that Plaintiff was not disabled from January 1, 2004, through the date last insured of June 30, 2005. R. at 77.

         After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review, Plaintiff filed on February 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. §§ ...


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