United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION [#15, #16]
Richard J. Leon United States District Judge.
Nora Brown ("plaintiff) brings this action against
defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration ("defendant")
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking reversal of the
denial of her application for Social Security Disability
Insurance ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income
("SSI") benefits. See Compl. [Dkt. #1].
This case comes before me on plaintiffs Motion for Judgment
of Reversal [Dkt. #15] and defendant's Motion for
Judgment of Affirmance [Dkt. #16]. For the reasons set forth
below, I DENY plaintiffs motion and GRANT defendant's
II and XVI of the Social Security Act provide benefits for
"disabled" claimants, 42 U.S.C. §§
423(a), 1382(a)(1), who demonstrate an inability "to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment. . .
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months," id.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). In order to
qualify, the impairment must be "of such severity that
[the claimant] is not only unable to do his previous work but
cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience,
engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which
exists in the national economy.'" Id.
§§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
("Commissioner") assesses disability claims through
a five-step sequential evaluation. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The burden of
proof rests on the claimant in steps one through four, but
shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Butler v.
Barnhart, 353 F.3d 992, 997 (D.C. Cir. 2004). At step
one, the claimant must show that she is not presently engaged
in "substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). At step
two, the claimant must show that she has at least one
"severe impairment" or combination of impairments
that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work
activities. See Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii),
416.920(a)(4)(ii). If she does, step three requires the
Commissioner to determine whether the claimant's
impairments "meet" or are "functionally
equal" to one of the impairments listed in the relevant
regulations, Appendix 1 to subpart P of 20 C.F.R. § 404
("Listed Impairments"). Id. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If they do, the
claimant "is deemed disabled and the inquiry is at an
end." Butler, 353 F.3d at 997; 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
claimant does not succeed at step three, the Commissioner
assesses a claimant's "residual functional
capacity" ("RFC")-that is, the Commissioner
must determine the most work the claimant can still do
despite her limitations. Id. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4), 404.1545(a). At step four, the
claimant must demonstrate that she is incapable of performing
her prior work based on her RFC. Id. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If she makes this
showing, the burden shifts at step five to the Commissioner
to demonstrate that, based on the claimant's RFC, she can
"make an adjustment to other work" in the national
economy. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
416.920(a)(4)(v). If the Commissioner concludes that the
claimant can engage in "other work," then she is
not disabled under the regulations. Id. §§
404.1520(g), 416.920(g). Otherwise, the claimant is disabled
and entitled to benefits. Id.
claimant's application for DIB or SSI is initially
denied, she has the option of seeking review by an
administrative law judge ("ALJ"). See 20
C.F.R. § 404.929. When disability claims are adjudicated
before an ALJ, the ALJ is obligated to compile a
comprehensive record incorporating all facts pertinent to the
Commissioner's determination. See Simms v.
Sullivan, 877 F.2d 1047, 1050 (D.C. Cir. 1989). The
ALJ's opinion must show that he "has analyzed all
evidence and has sufficiently explained the weight he has
given to obviously probative exhibits," id.,
including evidence that was rejected, Brown v.
Bowen, 794 F.2d 703, 708 (D.C. Cir. 1986).
claimant may appeal the ALJ's decision to the Appeals
Council. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1470(a). The Council may deny
the request for review, grant the request but dismiss the
case, grant the request and remand the case to the ALJ, or
grant the request and issue a decision. 20 C.F.R. §
404.967. If the Council grants review and issues a decision,
it may affirm, modify, or reverse the ALJ's decision. 20
C.F.R. § 404.979. When the Appeals Council considers a
claimant's appeal and enters a decision, "it is the
Appeal's Council decision which constitutes the
Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial
review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)." Schoenfeld v.
Apfel, 237 F.3d 788, 792 n.2 (7th Cir. 2001). Where the
Appeals Council adopts, as modified, the opinion of the ALJ,
a court "must review the decision of the ALJ as modified
by the Appeals Council." Arbogast v. Bowen, 860
F.2d 1400, 1402-03 (7th Cir. 1988).
first applied for DIB and SSI benefits on December 17, 2013,
claiming that she had been disabled since August 8, 2012. AR
at 90. Her initial applications were denied in July 2014, AR
at 107-10, and her request for reconsideration was denied in
August 2014, AR at 114-17. She challenged the
Commissioner's decision at a hearing before an ALJ in
July 2016. AR at 20-46. Prior to the hearing, plaintiff
submitted a memorandum requesting that the hearing record be
held open for thirty days if the ALJ considered vocational
testimony about other jobs in the economy under step five of
the sequential evaluation process. AR at 218-19. At the
hearing, plaintiff was represented by an attorney who gave an
opening argument. AR at 24-25. Both plaintiff and a
vocational expert testified and were examined by both
plaintiffs attorney and the ALJ. AR at 26-45. After asking
the vocational expert a hypothetical question and receiving a
response, plaintiffs attorney stated "Okay, thank you.
That's all I have, your honor." AR at 44. At the
conclusion of the hearing, the following exchange took place:
ALJ: Counselor, do you have any further evidence to present
ATTY: No, your honor.
ALJ: Any closing?
ATTY: No, your ...