United States District Court, D. Maryland
David Copperthite United States Magistrate Judge
September 20, 2018, Linda Carol D. ("Plaintiff")
petitioned this Court to review the Social Security
Administration's ("SSA") final decision to deny
her claims for a period of disability and Disability
Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). See ECF No. 1
("the Complaint"). After consideration of the
Complaint and the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment (ECF Nos. 13, 20), the Court finds that no hearing
is necessary. See Loc.R. 105.6 (D.Md. 2018). For the
reasons that follow, Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment
(ECF No. 13) is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 20) is GRANTED.
7, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for DIB,
alleging disability beginning on July 21, 2012. Her claims
were denied initially and upon reconsideration on August 8,
2016 and September 28, 2016, respectively. Subsequently, on
November 7, 2016, Plaintiff filed a written request for a
hearing and, on August 8, 2017, an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") presided over a video hearing. On September
25, 2017, the ALJ rendered a decision ruling that Plaintiff
"ha[d] not been under a disability within the meaning of
the Social Security Act [(the "Act")] from July 21,
2012, through the date of this decision." ECF No. 9 at
26. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an appeal of the ALJ's
disability determination and, on July 21, 2018, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiffs request for review. Thus, the
decision rendered by the ALJ became the final decision of the
SSA. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481 (2018); see
also Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).
September 20, 2018, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this
Court seeking judicial review of the SSA's denial of her
disability application. On May 23, 2019, Plaintiff filed a
Motion for Summary Judgment, and Defendant filed a Motion for
Summary Judgment on September 19, 2019. Plaintiff filed a
response to Defendant's Motion on September 21,
2019. This matter is now fully briefed, and the
Court has reviewed both-parties' motions.
Court is authorized to review the [SSA]'s denial of
benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)." Johnson v.
Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam)
(citation omitted). The Court, however, does not conduct a
de novo review of the evidence. Instead, the
Court's review of an SSA decision is deferential, as
"[t]he findings of the [SSA] as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . .
." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see Smith v.
Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996) ("The duty
to resolve conflicts in the evidence rests with the ALJ, not
with a reviewing court."); Smith v. Schweiker,
795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986) ("We do not conduct a
de novo review of the evidence, and the [SSA]'s
finding of non-disability is to be upheld, even if the court
disagrees, so long as it is supported by substantial
evidence." (citations omitted)). Therefore, the issue
before the reviewing court is not whether the plaintiff is
disabled, but whether the ALJ's finding that the
plaintiff is not disabled is supported by substantial
evidence and was reached based upon a correct application of
the relevant law. Brown v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 873 F.3d 251, 267 (4th Cir. 2017) ("[A]
reviewing court must uphold the [disability] determination
when an ALJ has applied correct legal standards and the
ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial
evidence." (citation and internal quotation marks
evidence is that which a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. It consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be less than a
preponderance." Pearson v. Colvin, 810 F.3d
204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal citations and quotation
marks omitted). "In reviewing for substantial evidence,
we do not undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence, make
credibility determinations, or substitute our judgment for
that of the ALJ. Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable
minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the
responsibility for that decision falls on the ALJ."
Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012)
(internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Therefore,
in conducting the "substantial evidence" inquiry,
the court shall determine whether the ALJ has considered all
relevant evidence and sufficiently explained the weight
accorded to that evidence. Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v.
Akers, 131 F.3d 438, 439-40 (4th Cir. 1997).
Determinations and Burden of Proof
eligible for DIB and S SI, a claimant must establish that she
is under disability within the meaning of the Act. The term
"disability," for purposes of the Act, is defined
as the "inability to engage in 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." 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). A claimant shall be
determined to be under disability where "h[er] physical
or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that
[s]he is not only unable to do h[er] previous work but
cannot, considering h[er] age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy[.]" 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
determining whether a claimant has a disability within the
meaning of the Act, the ALJ, acting on behalf of the SSA,
follows the five-step evaluation process outlined in the Code
of Federal Regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920; see Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35
(4th Cir. 2015). The evaluation process is sequential,
meaning that "[i]f at any step a finding of disability
or nondisability can be made, the SSA will not review the
claim further." Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S.
20, 24 (2003); see 20 C.F.R. §§
one, the ALJ considers the claimant's work activity to
determine if the claimant is engaged in "substantial
gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is
engaged in "substantial gainful activity," then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 404.1520(b), 416.920(a)(4)(i), 416.920(b).
two, the ALJ considers whether the claimant has a
"severe medically determinable physical or mental
impairment [or combination of impairments] that meets the
duration iequirement[.]" 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant does
not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments
meeting the durational requirement of twelve months, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 404.1520(c), 416.909, 416.920(a)(4)(ii),
three, the ALJ considers whether the claimant's
impairments, either individually or in combination, meet or
medically equal one of the presumptively disabling
impairments listed in the Code of Federal Regulations. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed
impairments, then the claimant is considered disabled,
regardless of the claimant's age, education, and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. ...