United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
October 2, 2018, Patrick M (“Plaintiff”)
petitioned this Court to review the Social Security
Administration's (“SSA”) final decision to
deny his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits. (ECF No.
1). I have considered the parties' cross-motions for
summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 9 and 12). I find that no hearing
is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). This
Court must uphold the decision of the SSA if it is supported
by substantial evidence and if the SSA employed proper legal
standards. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th
Cir. 1996). Under that standard, I will deny Plaintiff's
motion, grant the Government's motion, and affirm the
Social Security Administration's judgment pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This letter
explains my rationale.
protectively filed his claims for benefits on August 13,
2014, alleging an onset date of February 13, 2014. (ECF No.
8-3 at 11). The claim was denied initially on January 13,
2015. Id. A hearing was held on July 21, 2017,
before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Jesus
Ortis. (Tr. 46-79). Following the hearing, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 18).
The Appeals Council declined review (Tr. 1-6), and
consequently the ALJ's decision constitutes the final,
reviewable decision of the SSA.
arriving at his decision to deny Plaintiff's claim, the
ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation of
disability set forth in the Secretary's regulations. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920. “To summarize, the 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 her past work given the limitations
caused by her medical impairments; and at step five, whether
the claimant can perform other work.” Mascio v.
Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015). If the
first three steps do not yield a conclusive determination,
the ALJ then assesses the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), “which is ‘the
most' the claimant ‘can still do despite'
physical and mental limitations that affect her ability to
work, ” by considering all of the claimant's
medically determinable impairments regardless of severity.
Id. at 635 (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1)).
The claimant bears the burden of proof through the first four
steps of the sequential evaluation. If he makes the requisite
showing, the burden shifts to the Social Security
Administration at step five to prove “that the claimant
can perform other work that ‘exists in significant
numbers in the national economy,' considering the
claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education,
and work experience.” Lewis v. Berryhill, 858
F.3d 858, 862 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal citations omitted).
case, at step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 13,
2014. (Tr.12). At step two, the ALJ determined that during
the relevant time period, Plaintiff suffered from the
following severe impairments: “degenerative disc
disease, knee impairment, and obesity.” (Tr. 12). At
step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meet or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (Tr. 13). Then, “[a]fter careful
consideration of the entire record, ” the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to:
[P]erform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)
except: the claimant can climb ramps and stairs occasionally,
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and never crawl;
the claimant can never work at unprotected heights, and never
around moving mechanical parts.
at steps four and five, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was
unable to perform any past relevant work, but in considering
age, education, experience, and RFC, “there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform.” (Tr. 16-17). Therefore,
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled during the
relevant time frame. (Tr. 18).
Court reviews an ALJ's decision to ensure that the
ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and
were reached through application of correct legal standards.
Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir.
2012). “Substantial evidence means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion, ” which “consists of more
than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be less than a
preponderance.” Id. (internal citations and
quotation marks omitted). In accordance with this standard,
the Court does not “undertake to reweigh conflicting
evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute
[its] judgment for that of the ALJ.” Johnson v.
Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (internal
citations and quotations omitted). Instead, “[w]here
conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to
whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that
decision falls on the ALJ.” Id.
makes two primary arguments on appeal, that the ALJ
erroneously assessed Plaintiff's: (1) RFC; and (2)
subjective symptoms. (ECF No. 9-1).
support of the contention that the ALJ erroneously assessed
his RFC, Plaintiff asserts two sub-claims. (ECF No. 9-1 at
3-11). These claims are that the ALJ: (1) failed to include a
narrative discussion setting forth a function-by-function
analysis of Plaintiff's ability to perform work-related
activities (Id. at 4-7); (2) erroneously evaluated
the opinions of the State Agency physician, Plaintiff's
treating physician, and the consultative examiner, who
evaluated the Plaintiff's claim on behalf of the
Commissioner. Id. at 8-9.
Plaintiff contends that under Mascio v. Colvin, 780
F.3d 632 (4th Cir. 2015), the ALJ failed to provide a
function-by-function analysis to explain the RFC
determination with regard to Plaintiff's physical and
mental impairments. (ECF No. 9-1 at 4). Social Security
regulations require an ALJ to “identify the
[claimant's] functional limitations or restrictions and
assess his . . . work related abilities on a
function-by-function basis.” Mascio, 780 F.3d
at 636. To satisfy this requirement, the ALJ must include a
“narrative discussion of the ...