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Monroe-Evans v. Berryhill

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 13, 2017

SHIRLONDA MONROE-EVANS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DEBORAH A. ROBINSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Shirlonda Monroe-Evans seeks judicial review of a decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her application for disability insurance benefits, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Complaint (ECF No. 1) ¶¶3-4. This action initially was originally referred to the undersigned for the completion of a report and recommendation. 10/12/2016 Docket Entry. Upon the consent of the parties, this action was subsequently assigned to the undersigned for all purposes. Notice, Consent, and Reference of a Civil Action to a Magistrate Judge (ECF No. 16).

         Currently pending for determination are Plaintiff s Motion for Judgment of Reversal (ECF No. 9) and Defendant's Motion for Judgment of Affirmance (ECFNo. 10). Upon consideration of the motions, the memoranda in support thereof and in opposition thereto, and the entire record herein, the court will grant Plaintiffs motion, and remand this action to the SSA for the award of benefits. The court will deny Defendant's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff had previously applied for, and been granted, a period of disability benefits from September 2, 2010 through November 1, 2011. See Administrative Record ("AR") (ECF No. 6) at 97-98. That period of disability ended when Plaintiff returned to full-time work on November 2, 2011. Id. at 98. On September 12, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed a second Title II application for disability insurance benefits and alleged anew disability onset date of September 9, 2013. Id. at 20. Plaintiff reported that she suffers from "[r]uptured achilles tendons in right leg." Id. at 218. Plaintiffs application was initially denied by the SSA on May 30, 2014, and was subsequently denied upon reconsideration on January 9, 2015. Id. at 131-34, 140-43.

         Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing, see Id. at 16, and appeared before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on December 9, 2015, see Id. at 20. The ALJ denied Plaintiff s application on February 18, 2016. See Id. at 17-34.[2] In the decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 9, 2013. Id. at22. Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: "Achilles tendonitis, pseudotumor cerebri, obesity, and major depression not otherwise specified[.]" Id. at 23. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff "does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix l[.]" Id. Lastly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except she is limited to lifting and carrying ten pounds occasionally, less that ten pounds frequently; standing or walking two hours, sitting six hours in an eight hour work day; pushing and pulling occasionally with the right lower extremity; never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, occasionally climbing ramps and stairs, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. The claimant can perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks.

Id. at 25.

         Based on the Plaintiffs RFC determination, the ALJ found that "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform" such that she "has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from September 9, 2013, through the date of this decision[.]" Id. at 33, 34.

         Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision from the SSA, which the SSA denied on March 22, 2016, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision "the final decision of the Commissioner[.]" Id. at 1. Plaintiff then commenced the instant action.

         STATUTORY FRAMEWORK

         The 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 age 65[, ] ... areblind[, ] or disabled." 42U.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 the determination of whether adult claimants are disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         First, the SSA evaluates whether the claimant is "doing substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b). If so, the SSA concludes that the claimant is not disabled. Id.

         Second, if the claimant is not engaging in substantial gainful activity, the SSA 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 ...


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