United States District Court, D. Maryland.
MARK COULSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
October 22, 2015, Plaintiff, Marie Yvonne Jackson, petitioned
this Court to review the Social Security
Administration’s final decision to deny her claim for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (ECF No.
1.) I have considered the parties’ cross-motions for
summary judgment and Ms. Jackson’s reply memorandum.
(ECF Nos. 16, 19, 20.) I find that no hearing is necessary.
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 deny Ms. Jackson’s motion, grant the
Commissioner’s motion, and affirm the
Commissioner’s judgment. This letter explains my
Jackson protectively filed her DIB claim on March 13, 2012.
(Tr. 61, 139-45.) She alleged a disability onset date of May
1, 2005. (Tr. 139.) Her claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration. (Tr. 62-76.) A hearing was held on December
12, 2014, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 28-55.) Following the hearing, the
ALJ determined that Ms. Jackson was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time
frame. (Tr. 12-27.) The Appeals Council denied Ms.
Jackson’s request for review, (Tr. 1-6), so the
ALJ’s decision constitutes the final, reviewable
decision of the agency.
evaluating Social Security claims, the agency (here through
the ALJ) engages in a five-step sequential evaluation. If at
any step of the sequential evaluation the ALJ can find that
the claimant is or is not disabled, he makes his
determination at that step and does not proceed to the next
step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). At step two of the
sequential evaluation, the ALJ evaluates the medical severity
of a claimant’s impairments. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If a claimant does not have “a
severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment
that meets the duration requirement in § 404.1509, or a
combination of impairments that is severe and meets the
duration requirement, ” the ALJ will find the claimant
not disabled. Id. Social Security regulations define
a non-severe impairment as one that “does not
significantly limit [a claimant’s] physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1521(a). It goes on to define “basic work
activities” as “the abilities and aptitudes
necessary to do most jobs, ” including:
(1) Physical functions such as walking, standing, sitting,
lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling;
(2) Capacities for seeing, hearing, and speaking;
(3) Understanding, carrying out, and remembering simple
(4) Use of judgment;
(5) Responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and
usual work situations; and
(6) Dealing with changes in a routine work setting.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b). In this case, the ALJ found
that, through her date last insured,  Ms. Jackson suffered from
the medically determinable impairments of chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (“COPD”), back disorder,
hypertension, hyperlipidemia, gastroesophageal reflux
disease, stress urinary incontinence, obesity, affective
disorder, and anxiety. (Tr. 17.) However, the ALJ concluded
that none of Ms. Jackson’s medically determinable
impairments significantly limited her ability to perform
basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months.
Accordingly, he determined that none of her impairments were
“severe, ” and that she was not disabled. (Tr.
appeal, Ms. Jackson raises three primary arguments. First,
she argues that the ALJ failed to consider whether there are
explanations for the limited nature of her medical treatment
that do not undermine the severity of her symptoms. Second,
she claims that the ALJ afforded improper consideration to
her treating physician’s retrospective opinion as to
the onset date of her alleged disability. Finally, she argues
that the ALJ improperly considered the medical evidence of
her mental impairments.
Jackson first claims that, when considering her medical
treatment history, the ALJ improperly drew inferences about
her symptoms and their functional effects from the fact that
she treated only with her general practitioner, Dr. Shakil,
and did not receive treatment for either her physical or
mental impairments from relevant specialists. In particular,
Ms. Jackson takes issue with the ALJ’s statements that
“there is no evidence that the claimant treated with a
breathing or pulmonary specialist, ” in reference to
her COPD, that, with regard to her back impairment,
“[t]he lack of more aggressive treatment or even a
referral to a specialist for her back problems suggested the
symptoms and limitations were not as severe as alleged,
” and that she “received only basic care through
her general practitioner” for her mental impairments.
(See Tr. 19-20.) Ms. Jackson contends that the ALJ’s
inferences were impermissible because he failed to consider
her lack of medical insurance as an explanation for her
failure to seek more aggressive, specialized treatment. Ms.
Jackson contends that the ALJ’s analysis was thus
contrary to Social Security Ruling 69-7p, which provides that
must not draw any inferences about an individual's
symptoms and their functional effects from a failure to seek
or pursue regular medical treatment without first considering
any explanations that the individual may provide, or other
information in the case record, that may explain ...