United States District Court, D. Maryland
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
to Standing Order 2014-01, the above-referenced case has been
referred to me for review of the parties’ dispositive
motions and to make recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 301.5(b)(ix). I have
considered both parties’ filings, which include the
Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment and Ms.
Shearer’s opposition, in addition to the information
Ms. Shearer filed in connection with her complaint. [ECF Nos.
1, 19, 21]. This Court must uphold the Commissioner’s
decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and if
proper legal standards were employed. 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g), 1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir. 1996); Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514,
517 (4th Cir. 1987). I find that no hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons set
forth below, I recommend that the Commissioner’s motion
Shearer filed her application for Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB") on September 19, 2011, alleging a
disability onset date of March 21, 2011. (Tr. 142-43). Her
application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr.
84-98). After a hearing on October 16, 2013, an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ") issued an opinion
denying benefits. (Tr. 21-38, 39-73). The Appeals Council
denied review, making the ALJ’s decision the final,
reviewable decision of the Agency. (Tr. 8-11).
found that, during the relevant time frame, Ms. Shearer
suffered from the severe impairments of obesity, degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar spine with radiculopathy, and
degenerative joint disease of the left knee, status post
surgery. (Tr. 26). Despite these impairments, the ALJ
determined that Ms. Shearer retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC") to
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)
except that she is further limited to: never crawling or
climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; no more than occasional
crouching, kneeling, balancing, stooping, and climbing ramps
or stairs; and, no more than a concentrated exposure to
(Tr. 28). The ALJ further determined that Ms. Shearer was not
capable of performing her past relevant work as a charge back
team specialist or route sales representative, but that she
could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in
the national economy. (Tr. 32-33). Accordingly, the ALJ
concluded that Ms. Shearer was not disabled. (Tr. 33).
Ms. Shearer appears pro se, I have carefully
reviewed the ALJ’s opinion and the entire record.
See Elam v. Barnhart, 386 F.Supp.2d 746, 753 (E.D.
Tex. 2005) (mapping an analytical framework for judicial
review of a pro se action challenging an adverse
administrative decision, including: (1) examining whether the
Commissioner’s decision generally comports with
regulations, (2) reviewing the ALJ’s critical findings
for compliance with the law, and (3) determining from the
evidentiary record whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ’s findings). I have particularly considered the
arguments Ms. Shearer raised in her filings. [ECF Nos. 1,
function of this Court is not to review Ms. Shearer’s
claims de novo or to reweigh the evidence of record.
Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir.
1986) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and Blalock v.
Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972)). Rather,
this Court is to determine whether, upon review of the whole
record, the Commissioner’s decision is supported by
substantial evidence and a proper application of the law.
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
1990); Coffman, 829 F.2d at 517; see also
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). While there may be substantial
evidence in the record that would support a finding of
disability, in addition to substantial evidence refuting such
a finding, this Court should not disturb the ALJ’s
conclusion so long as it is one of the conclusions supported
by substantial evidence. For the reasons described below,
substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision.
proceeded in accordance with applicable law at all five steps
of the sequential evaluation. The ALJ ruled in Ms.
Shearer’s favor at step one, and determined that she
did not engage in substantial gainful activity after her
alleged onset date of March 21, 2011. (Tr. 26); see
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). At step two, the ALJ
considered the severity of each of the impairments that Ms.
Shearer claimed prevented her from working. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). As noted above, the ALJ
concluded that several of Ms. Shearer’s alleged
impairments were severe. Id. The ALJ further
determined that Ms. Shearer’s history of carpal tunnel
release and leg swelling were non-severe. (Tr. 26). Ms.
Shearer contends that her leg swelling is, in fact, a
persistent and significant problem. [ECF No. 21-1 at 2]. A
review of the ALJ’s opinion reflects that he did not
discredit her reports of leg swelling, but simply found that
the leg swelling was a symptom of her other impairments, and
not a separate impairment in and of itself. (Tr. 27-28). For
example, the ALJ noted her testimony about leg swelling and
her reports of leg swelling to various physicians, when he
considered her RFC. (Tr. 28, 29). Accordingly, I find no
basis for remand.
three, the ALJ determined that Ms. Shearer’s
impairments did not meet the specific requirements of, or
medically equal the criteria of, any listings. (Tr. 27-28).
The ALJ specifically identified Listing 1.02 (major
dysfunction of a joint) and Listing 1.04 (disorders of the
spine), and cited to record evidence to support his
conclusions that Ms. Shearer did not meet at least one of the
criteria for each listing. Id.
considering Ms. Shearer’s RFC assessment, the ALJ
summarized her subjective complaints of back and leg pain,
medication side effects, and activities of daily living. (Tr.
28-29). However, the ALJ determined that Ms. Shearer’s
subjective complaints were not entirely credible. (Tr. 29).
The ALJ cited to the fact that the medical records did not
reflect some of the impairments listed in Ms. Shearer’s
testimony. For example, although the medical records show
mild allergic reactions to medications involving tongue
swelling, there is no medical documentation of the fact that
Lyrica causes Ms. Shearer to have persistent blurred vision
for several hours. Id. In addition, the ALJ noted
that the medical records do not demonstrate that she has to
elevate her legs for 30 minutes every hour. Id. The
ALJ referenced the fact that Ms. Shearer is capable of
performing the majority of household chores, and also cited
to the medical evidence of record, which reflected only mild
to moderate findings on objective radiological testing and
relatively minimal findings on clinical examination. (Tr.
29-30). The ALJ also noted that Ms. Shearer was discharged
from a physical therapy program for non-compliance. (Tr. 30).
The ALJ thus provided a thorough credibility analysis,
explaining his reasons for discounting Ms. Shearer’s
assessing Ms. Shearer’s RFC, the ALJ also considered
all of the opinion evidence in the record, providing
substantial evidence in support of the weight he accorded
each opinion. The ALJ assigned “moderate weight"
to the opinion of State agency medical consultants, Drs.
Hakkarinen and Ahn, who found Ms. Shearer’s impairments
to be less limiting than the RFC assessment eventually
determined by the ALJ. (Tr. 31). The ALJ also considered the
Functional Capacity Evaluation performed by Dr. Susan
Flemming, but assigned it only “minimal weight."
(Tr. 31-32). The ALJ relied upon internal inconsistencies
within Dr. Flemming’s report, as well as deficiencies
in the examination she performed and discrepancies between
the examination results and her recommended limitations. (Tr.
my review of the ALJ’s decision is confined to whether
substantial evidence, in the record as it was reviewed by the
ALJ, supports the decision and whether correct legal
standards were applied. See Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 390, 404 (1971). Even if there is other
evidence that may support Ms. Shearer’s position, I am
not permitted to reweigh the evidence or to substitute my own
judgment for that of the ALJ. See Hays v. Sullivan,
907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In considering the
entire record, I find the ALJ’s RFC determination was
supported by substantial evidence, because the ...