United States District Court, D. Maryland
Ms. Holton and Counsel:
April 4, 2015, Plaintiff Judy Carolyn Holton petitioned this
Court to review the Social Security Administration’s
final decision to deny her claim for Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”). (ECF No. 1). Ms. Holton was
represented by counsel when she filed her appeal, but her
counsel has since withdrawn his appearance. She now appears
pro se. I have considered the Commissioner’s
motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 22). Ms. Holton has not
filed a response. 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. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Under that
standard, I will grant the Commissioner’s motion and
affirm the Commissioner’s judgment pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This letter explains my
Holton protectively filed a claim for DIB on May 4, 2011,
alleging a disability onset date of February 2, 2011. (Tr.
10). Her claim was denied initially and on reconsideration.
(Tr. 82-85, 87-88). A hearing was held on May 28, 2013,
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), at
which Ms. Holton requested a chance to obtain representation.
(Tr. 56-62). A second hearing was held on September 23, 2013.
(Tr. 23-48). Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that
Ms. Holton was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 7-22). The
Appeals Council denied Ms. Holton’s request for review,
(Tr. 1-5), so the ALJ’s decision constitutes the final,
reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Holton suffered from the severe impairments of
obesity, right ankle degenerative joint disease and sprain,
right hand ring trigger finger status post A1 pulley release,
right heel calcaneal spur/plantar fasciitis, lower extremity
venous insufficiency, right hip bursitis, lumbar
spondylosis/degenerative disc disease, and left knee
degenerative joint disease. (Tr. 12). Despite these
impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms. Holton retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except:
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to
occasionally lift and/or carry 20 pounds; frequently lift
and/or carry 10 pounds; stand and/or walk about 6 hours in an
8 hour workday; sit for a total of about 6 hours in an 8 hour
workday; and occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl; and she requires the ability to alternate
between sitting and standing about every 30 minutes and
requires a 5 minute break every hour to stand and stretch.
(Tr. 14). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms. Holton
could perform her past relevant work as a station manager, as
it is generally performed. (Tr. 17). The ALJ therefore
concluded that Ms. Holton was not disabled. (Tr. 17-18).
carefully reviewed the ALJ’s opinion and the entire
record, including the arguments raised by Ms. Holton’s
then-counsel in a letter filed for the administrative appeal.
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). 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.
Holton’s favor at step one and determined that she had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged
onset date. (Tr. 12); see 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). At step two, the ALJ then considered the
severity of each of the impairments that Ms. Holton claimed
prevented her from working. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). As noted above, the ALJ concluded that
Ms. Holton suffered from several severe impairments. (Tr.
18). The ALJ further evaluated carpal tunnel syndrome,
diabetes, vision problems, and mental health diagnoses, and
found that those impairments either had not been diagnosed or
were not severe impairments. (Tr. 13). The ALJ supported
those findings with citations to Ms. Holton’s hearing
testimony and to her medical records. Id.
three, the ALJ determined that Ms. Holton’s impairments
did not meet the specific requirements of, or medically equal
the criteria of, any listings. (Tr. 13). The ALJ considered
the specific requirements of Listing 1.02, major dysfunction
of a joint, Listing 1.04, disorders of the spine, and Listing
4.11, chronic venous insufficiency. See 20 C.F.R.
Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, §§ 1.02, 1.04, 4.11. The
ALJ concluded that none of those listings were satisfied, and
cited to the specific criteria for each listing that had not
been met. I have carefully reviewed the record, and I agree
that no listings are met or equaled.
considering Ms. Holton’s RFC, the ALJ first recognized
her strong earnings history and long work record,
acknowledging that those factors bolstered her credibility.
(Tr. 14). However, the ALJ also recognized records suggesting
that Ms. Holton retired from her position and that she had
been released back to work after her retirement date.
Id. The ALJ also cited to “[m]inimal
diagnostic findings, conservative and intermittent treatment
primarily by primary care physicians, and some impairments
receiving no ongoing care” in making a finding that Ms.
Holton’s allegations were not entirely credible.
example, with respect to venous insufficiency, the ALJ noted
that Ms. Holton was not under the care of a cardiologist and
had not been referred for such care. (Tr. 15). The ALJ
further noted that the condition improved with elevation and
compression stockings, and that the record did not reflect a
need to spend any significant time with extremities elevated.
the musculoskeletal impairments, the ALJ noted that after the
right ring finger A1 pulley release, Ms. Holton was released
back to work on February 28, 2011. (Tr. 15). The ALJ also
cited the consultative examiner’s “minimal
objective findings despite decreased effort.”
Id. In addition, the ALJ noted that diagnostic
studies such as x-rays have revealed only mild findings. (Tr.
16). The ALJ further noted no evidence of ongoing care by
specialists, ongoing physical therapy, ongoing pain
management, or ongoing injections. Id.
in assessing Ms. Holton’s RFC, the ALJ considered all
of the opinion evidence in the record, providing substantial
evidence in support of the weight he accorded each opinion.
The ALJ noted that none of Ms. Holton’s treating
physicians provided opinions supporting her claim of
disability. (Tr. 16-17). The ALJ assigned “great
weight” to the opinions of two State agency medical
consultants, who opined that Ms. Holton could perform light
work with occasional postural movements. (Tr. 17). The ALJ
assigned lesser weight to the opinion of the consultative
physical examiner, who found somewhat greater capacity,
reasoning that the State agency medical consultants were able
to view Ms. Holton’s longitudinal medical records.
Id. In addition, the ALJ imposed the additional
restrictions including the sit/stand option and the
five-minute hourly breaks, citing Ms. Holton’s medical
records and obesity. Id.
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. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390, 404 (1971). Even if there is other evidence
that may support Ms. Holton’s position, I am not
permitted to reweigh the evidence or to substitute my own
judgment for that of the ALJ. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In considering the entire
record, and noting the ALJ’s extensive citation to the
record evidence as described above, I find the ALJ’s
RFC determination was supported by substantial evidence.
at step four, the ALJ determined that, pursuant to her RFC
assessment, Ms. Holton was able to perform her past relevant
work as a station manager. (Tr. 22-23). The ALJ based that
determination on the testimony of the VE. (Tr. 17). The VE
testified that a person with Ms. Holton’s RFC would be
able to perform the job of station manager as customarily
performed according to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”), and clarified that although the
sit/stand option was not covered by the DOT, the VE based the
determination on her professional experience. (Tr. 26-28).
Although there was evidence at the hearing suggesting that
Ms. Holton’s actual work at Metro involved a heavier
exertional capacity than the position as ...