United States District Court, D. Maryland
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
to Standing Order 2014-01, the above-captioned case has been
referred to me to review 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
the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, and Ms.
Coulter's reply memorandum. [ECF Nos. 12, 16, 17]. I find
that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D.
Md. 2014). This Court must uphold the decision of the Agency
if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the Agency
employed proper legal standards. 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). For the reasons set forth below, I
recommend that Ms. Coulter's motion be denied, that the
Commissioner's motion be granted, and that the
Commissioner's judgment be affirmed pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Coulter filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income
("SSI") on June 26, 2011, alleging that her
disability began on March 17, 2011. (Tr. 183-91). Her
applications were denied initially on October 14, 2011, and
on reconsideration on July 18, 2012. (Tr. 59-78, 79-80,
118-31). An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a
video hearing on January 30, 2014, at which Ms. Coulter was
represented by counsel. (Tr. 34-58). Following the hearing,
the ALJ determined that Ms. Coulter was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant
time frame. (Tr. 16-33). The Appeals Council denied Ms.
Coulter's request for review, (Tr. 1-6), so the ALJ's
decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the
found that Ms. Coulter suffered from the severe impairments
of degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine
with ankylosing spondylitis, hypertrophic changes in the
knees, obesity, migraine headaches, and depression. (Tr. 21).
Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except she can lift and carry 10 pounds frequently
and 20 pounds occasionally, she needs to have the option to
changes [sic] positions at will while remaining on task, she
can occasionally climb but cannot climb ropes, ladders, or
scaffolds, and she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl. Nonexertionally, she is able to use common
sense understanding to perform instructions provided in oral,
written, or diagrammatic form consistent with a range of
unskilled work at or below reasoning level 3 as those terms
are defined in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.
(Tr. 23). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert ("VE"), the ALJ determined that Ms. Coulter
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy and that, therefore, she was not disabled.
Coulter disagrees. She raises two primary arguments on
appeal. First, she argues that the ALJ erred in his
evaluation of whether she met Listing 1.04A. Second, she
argues that the ALJ's credibility findings were
unsupported by substantial evidence. Each argument lacks
merit for reasons discussed below.
to Ms. Coulter's first argument, she asserts that the ALJ
"erred at step three of the sequential evaluation by
failing to properly evaluate whether Plaintiff's
impairments met or equaled Listing 1.04A." Pl. Mem. at
8. Listings describe each of the major body system
impairments that the Agency "consider[s] to be severe
enough to prevent an individual from doing any gainful
activity, regardless of his or her age, education, or work
experience." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1525(a),
416.925(a). Listings 1.00 et. seq. through Listings
11.00, et. seq., Listings 13.00 et. seq.,
and Listings 14.00 et. seq., pertain to physical
impairments. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. Each physical impairment listing contains a set
of signs or objective medical findings which must be present
for the claimant's impairment to meet the listing.
See, e.g., id. at § 4.02.
1.04 pertains to disorders of the spine. To meet the Listing,
a claimant must have a diagnosed spinal impairment
"resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including the
cauda equina) or the spinal cord, " with additional
medical findings delineated in subsections A through C.
Id. at § 1.04. Ms. Coulter argues that the ALJ
erred in his evaluation of whether she met Listing 1.04A. Pl.
Mem. at 8-31. In addition to the above noted requirements,
subsection A also requires that a claimant demonstrate the
Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by
nero-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of
the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle
weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex
loss and, if there is involvement of the lower back, positive
straight-leg raising test (sitting and supine)[.]
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 § 1.04. While
Listing 1.04A includes various medical findings necessary to
meet the Listing, those findings must be precipitated by
"[e]vidence of nerve root compression."
Id. I note that in order to meet a listing,
"every element of the listing must be satisfied."
Huntington v. Apfel, 101 F.Supp.2d 381, 384 (D. Md.
instant case, the ALJ found that Ms. Coulter's
impairments did not meet or medically equal Listing 1.04.
Specifically, the ALJ stated that, "[h]er degenerative
disc disease has not resulted in a compromise of a nerve root
or the spinal cord, motor loss, spinal arachnoiditis, or
lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in an inability to ambulate
effectively or perform fine and gross movements effectively
meeting sections 1.04 or 1.02 of Appendix 1." (Tr. 22).
Ms. Coulter argues that the ALJ's analysis of whether she
met Listing 1.04A was deficient because he "broadly
conflated the various subsections into one incomplete
summation of Listing 1.04, " and thus, "erred by
requiring Plaintiff to produce more evidence than the listing
requires." Pl. Mem. at 10. This argument, however,
misconstrues the ALJ's analysis of Listing 1.04, namely
because the ALJ reviewed all three subsections of Listing
1.04 simultaneously and concluded that Ms. Coulter's
impairments did not meet any of the individual subsections.
The ALJ did not, as Ms. Coulter argues, require her to prove
more than necessary to meet Listing 1.04A by noting that she
is able to ambulate effectively, since that is a requirement
of 1.04C. The same is true of the ALJ's findings that Ms.
Coulter did not exhibit spinal arachnoiditis or lumbar spinal
stenosis, which are required by subsections B and C,
respectively, or the inability to perform fine and gross
movements effectively as required by Listing 1.02 for major
dysfunction of a joint.
Coulter also argues that the ALJ failed to connect the
listing requirements to the evidence. In particular, she
contends that, "The ALJ provided little explicit
analysis, and never connected the evidence back to the
specific 1.04A requirements." Pl. Mem. at 16. In
Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir.
2013), the Fourth Circuit held that remand was warranted, as
pertinent to this case, because, "The ALJ's decision
regarding the applicability of Listing 1.04A [was] devoid of
reasoning." The Radford court noted that the
ALJ in that case stated that he had considered Listing 1.04A
among several listings and summarily concluded that the
claimant did not meet or equal the listing, and that there
were no medical opinions of record stating that the claimant
met or equaled the listing. Id. The Court held that
the ALJ's lack of discussion made it "impossible for
a reviewing court to evaluate whether substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's findings, " particularly in light
of "probative evidence strongly suggesting that [the
claimant] meets or equals Listing 1.04A." Id.
Furthermore, the Fourth Circuit found that the ALJ failed to
indicate why he gave more or less weight to the medical
opinions of record, including his reasons for giving more
weight to the opinions of non-treating State agency
physicians than to the claimant's treating physicians.
Id. at 295-96.
ALJ's discussion of Listing 1.04A in the instant case
does not suffer the same deficiencies at issue in
Radford. Rather, the ALJ's discussion of his RFC
assessment, the objective medical evidence, and the medical
opinions of record provide clear and substantial evidence for
his finding that Ms. Coulter's impairments did not meet
or equal Listing 1.04A. Specifically, the ALJ noted that
after a cervical surgery in 2011, Ms. Coulter stated that
although she had persistent tingling in her left forearm, her
pain had resolved. (Tr. 25). Likewise, the ALJ cited findings
from examinations stating that Ms. Coulter exhibited a full
range of motion in her neck, normal muscle tone and bulk, and
no sensory deficits. Id. The ALJ noted that her grip
strength in her upper left extremity was occasionally
decreased, but that she had normal fine motor skills.
Id. Similarly, regarding her lumbar spinal
impairment, the ALJ cited the normal findings from a nerve
conduction study of Ms. Coulter's lower ...