United States District Court, District of Columbia
DEBORAH A. ROBINSON, United States Magistrate Judge
John White ("Plaintiff) commenced this action against
the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
("Defendant"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
seeking reversal of an Administrative Law Judge's
decision denying Plaintiffs claim for Supplemental Social
Income Benefits ("SSI") and Disability Insurance
Benefits ("DIB"). See Complaint (ECFNo.
I)at2. This matter was referred to the undersigned United
States Magistrate Judge for full case management, and the
parties jointly consented to proceed before the undersigned
in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P.
73. See ECF Minute Entry 12/04/15; Joint Consent
(ECF No. 11). Pending for determination by the court are
Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment of Reversal ("Plaintiffs
Motion") (ECF No. 17) and Defendant's Motion for
Judgment of Affirmance ("Defendant's Motion")
(ECF No. 19). Upon consideration of the motions, the
memoranda in support thereof and opposition thereto, the
administrative record ("AR") (ECF No. 6), the
modified administrative record (ECF No. 14), and the entire
record herein, the court will grant Plaintiff s Motion for
Judgment of Reversal, deny Defendant's Motion for
Judgment of Affirmance and remand the matter for further
administrative proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
December 18, 2013 and February 28, 2014, Plaintiff filed
claims for Supplemental Security Income Benefits pursuant to
Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"),
alleging disability beginning on May 15, 2013. Plaintiffs
Memorandum (ECF No. 18) at 3; Defendant's Memorandum (ECF
No. 20) at 2. Plaintiffs alleged impairments include: right
wrist arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and bilateral
rotator cuff tears. Plaintiffs Memorandum at 3. The Social
Security Administration ("SSA") denied Plaintiffs
disability claims initially on April 22, 2014 and upon
reconsideration on August 29, 2014. Id. Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") and said hearing was held on February 24,
2015. Id. Upon review, the ALJ denied Plaintiffs
claims for disability benefits. Plaintiffs request for review
of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council was
ultimately denied on July 27, 2015. Id. at 4.
Social Security Act of 1935 established a framework to
provide "disability insurance benefits" to eligible
individuals and "supplemental security income" to
individuals who have attained the age of 65, are blind, or
disabled." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423, 1381, 1381a. The
Act defines "disability" for non-blind individuals
as "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); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905. A
"disabled" individual is eligible for supplemental
security income if he or she meets additional statutory
requirements concerning income and resources. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382(a). The SSA has promulgated regulations, pursuant
to the Act, outlining a five-step process for determining
disability of adults. .See 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520,
the agency evaluates whether the claimant is "doing
substantial gainful activity." If so, the agency
concludes that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b).
Second, if the claimant is not engaging in substantial
gainful activity, the agency determines whether the claimant
has a "severe medically determinable physical or medical
impairment that meets the duration requirement ... or a
combination of impairments that is severe and meets
the duration requirement .. .." 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(H), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Third, if deemed
severe, the next question becomes whether the impairment
"meets or equals one of the listings" in
20 C.F.R. § 404.1525(a) (emphasis added). The
"listing" referred to in the statute is composed of
a listing of impairments which "describe for each of the
major body systems impairments that [the agency] considers to
be severe enough to prevent an individual from doing any
gainful activity, regardless of his or her age, education, or
work experience." Id. Fourth, if the
claimant's impairment does not satisfy one of the
listings, the agency assesses the claimant's
"residual functional capacity" to see whether the
claimant is still capable of performing "past relevant
work." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. If so, the claimant is
not disabled. Id. Residual functional capacity is
"the most [an individual] can still do despite [his or
her] limitations." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. Fifth, and
finally, if the claimant is unable to perform his or her
"past relevant work, " the agency evaluates the
claimant's "residual functional capacity and . ..
age, education, and work experience to see if [he or she] can
make adjustment to other work." 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g); 416.920(a)(4)(v), (g). If the
claimant cannot make such an adjustment, the agency finds
that the individual is "disabled." 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(g)(1), 416.920(g)(1).
the SSA "give[s] more weight to opinions from . . .
treating sources than to the opinion of a source who had not
examined the [claimant]." 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(1). A treating source's opinion is given
"controlling weight" if it is "well-supported
by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence." Social Security Ruling 96-2p, 1996
WL 374188 (July 2, 1996); accord20 C.F.R. §
404.1527. "A treating physician's report is binding
on the fact-finder unless contradicted by substantial
evidence." Settles v. Colvin, 121 F.Supp.3d
163, 169 (D.D.C. 2015) (citing Espinosa v. Colvin,
953 F.Supp.2d 25, 32 (D.D.C. 2013)). When evaluating the
appropriate weight to give to a treating source's opinion
that is not entitled to "controlling weight" due to
inconsistencies with other evidence in the record, the ALJ
shall "apply the factors listed in paragraphs (c)(2)(i)
and (c)(2)(ii) of this section, as well as the factors in
paragraphs (c)(3) through (c)(6) of this section in
determining the weight to give the opinion" which
include: the length of the treatment relationship and the
frequency of examination, the nature and extent of the
treatment relationship, the presentation of medical signs and
laboratory findings in support a treating physician's
medical opinion, consistency of the opinion, the
physician's specialization and any other factors which
tend to support or contradict the opinion. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).
claimant may seek judicial review in a district court of
"any final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security made after a hearing to which he was a party . ..
." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Commissioner's
ultimate determination will not be disturbed "if it is
based on substantial evidence in the record and correctly
applies the relevant legal standards." Butler v.
Barnhart, 353 F.3d 992, 999 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (citations
omitted). In other words, a "district court's review
of the [SSA] findings of fact is limited to whether those
findings are supported by substantial evidence.'"
Broyles v. Astrue, 910 F.Supp.2d 55, 60 (D.D.C.
2012) (citations omitted). Substantial evidence is such
relevant evidence as "a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion." Butler, 353
F.3d at 999 (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).
The test requires "more than a scintilla, but can be
satisfied by something less than a preponderance of
evidence." Id. (citation omitted) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
Circuit has observed that "[s]ubstantial-evidence review
is highly deferential to the agency fact-finder, "
Rossello ex rel Rossello v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 1181,
1185 (D.C. Cir. 2008), and that "a reviewing judge must
uphold the ALJ's legal 'determination if it ... is
not tainted by an error of law.'" Jeffries v.
Astrue, 723 F.Supp.2d 185, 189 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting
Smith v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 1120, 1121 (D.C. Cir.
1987)); see also Nicholson v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 895
F.Supp.2d 101, 103 (D.D.C. 2012) (noting that the inquiry
upon judicial review is whether the ALJ has analyzed all
evidence and has sufficiently explained the weight he had
given to obviously probative exhibits"); Guthrie v.
Astrue, 604 F.Supp.2d 104, 112 (D.D.C. 2009) (noting
that the court is "not to review the case 'de
novo' or reweigh the evidence). The plaintiff bears the
"burden of demonstrating that the Commissioner's
decision [was] not based on substantial evidence or that
incorrect legal standards were applied." Muldrow v.
Astrue, No. 11-1385, 2012 WL 2877697, at *6 (D.D.C. July
11, 2012) (citation omitted); see also Charles v.
Astrue, 854 F.Supp.2d 22, 27-28 (D.D.C. 2012).
consideration of the administrative record, and upon
application of the five-step process outlined in 20 CFR
§ 404.1520(a) of the Social Security Act, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under the
definition provided by the SSA and thus was not eligible to
receive disability benefits. AR (ECF No. 14-2) at 24.
One of the analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the
insured status requirements of the Act and opined that
Plaintiff had not engaged in "substantial gainful
activity" since the alleged onset date of his
disability, despite Plaintiffs testimony that he had
performed intermittent work as an independent contractor,