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Jacobi P. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

December 23, 2019

Jacobi P.
v.
Saul

          Arjun K. Murahari, Esq. Mignini, Raab & Demuth, LLP

          Stacey W. Harris, Esq. Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security Administration, Office of General Counsel

         Dear Counsel:

         Pending before this Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 13, 14). A court must uphold the Social Security Administration's (“SSA” or “the Agency”) decision if it supported by substantial evidence and if the Agency employed proper legal standards. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3)(2016); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). The substantial evidence rule “consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Chater, 76 F.3d at 589. A court shall not “re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment” for that of the SSA. (Id.). Upon review of the pleadings and the record, this Court finds that no hearing is necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is DENIED and Defendant's motion is GRANTED. Pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the judgment of the SSA is AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed a Title II Application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Title XVI application for Supplemental Security Income Benefits on May 20, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of November 1, 2013. (Tr. 15). The SSA denied Plaintiff's application initially on October 24, 2014 and upon reconsideration, denied it again on April 5, 2015. (Id.). The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) granted Plaintiff's request for a hearing and conducted it on July 10, 2017. (Id.). On September 13, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 15-23). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final, reviewable decision of the Agency. (Tr. 1-5).

         II. ANALYSIS PERFORMED BY THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE

         In deciding to deny Plaintiff's claim, the ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process regarding disability set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. See also Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015). The steps used by the ALJ were as follows: step one, assess whether Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date; step two, determine whether Plaintiff's impairments met the severity and durations requirements found in the regulations; step three, ascertain whether Plaintiff's medical impairment met or equaled an impairment listed in the regulations, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (“the Listings”); step four, analyze whether Plaintiff could perform her past work, given the limitations caused by her impairments; and at step five, analyze whether Plaintiff could perform any work. (Tr. 31-40). Because the first three steps did not yield a conclusive determination, the ALJ also assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”)-i.e., the “most the claimant ‘c[ould] still do despite, physical and mental limitations that affect[ed] her ability to work”-by considering all of Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments, regardless of their severity. See Mascio, at 635 (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1)). Per Mascio, Plaintiff bore the burden of proof through the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. 780 F.3d at 636. Upon making the requisite showing, the burden shifted to the Agency at step five to prove that Plaintiff could perform other work that “exist[ed] in significant numbers in the national economy, ” in light of her “[RFC], age, education and work experience.” Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 862 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal citations omitted).

         Here, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments beginning on November 1, 2013: history of a right ankle fracture, left tibia fracture, obesity, and tobacco dependence syndrome. (Tr. 17). Recognizing those severe impairments, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to:

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a). Specifically, the claimant is able to perform lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling of 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. The claimant can stand one hour and walk one hour during an eight-hour workday with unlimited sitting and with normal breaks. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, wetness, humidity, vibration, and hazards of wet, slippery surfaces and unprotected heights. The claimant can occasionally push and pull with his bilateral lower extremities and needs a cane for ambulation. And, due to alleged side effects from his pain medications, the claimant is limited to low stress work, defined as having only occasional decision making required and only occasional changes in the work setting. (Tr. 18).

         At the hearing, a vocational expert (“VE”) testified about whether a hypothetical person with the same limitations as the Plaintiff could perform Plaintiff's prior work as a telephone technician and a fast food worker. (Tr. 61). The VE testified that the hypothetical person could not perform Plaintiff's prior work but could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, e.g., addressing clerk, document preparer, and a call out operator. (Tr. 62).

         Therefore, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 23).

         III. DISCUSSION

         On appeal to this Court, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to provide a sufficient explanation of her step three assessment of Plaintiff's ability to ambulate effectively. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the “ALJ failed to resolve discrepancies between her findings and the medical evidence pertaining to Plaintiff's inability to ambulate effectively as defined in See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1§1.00B2b.” (ECF No. 22, pp. 7-12). Plaintiff bears the burden of showing whether his impairment meets all of the criteria listed under Listing 1.02. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1§1.00B2b. Consequently, Plaintiff must show that the impairment “lasted or [was] expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509. In order to meet Listing 1.02 criteria, Plaintiff is ...


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