United States District Court, D. Maryland
Shannon A. Tegeler
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
November 17, 2015, Plaintiff Shannon A. Tegeler petitioned
this Court to review the Social Security Administration's
final decision to deny her claims for Supplemental Security
Income and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).
(ECF No. 1). I have considered the parties' cross-motions
for summary judgment, and Ms. Tegeler's reply. (ECF Nos.
16, 17, 18). I find that no hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). 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);
1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th
Cir. 1996). Under that standard, I will deny Ms.
Tegeler's motion, 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 rationale.
Tegeler filed her claims in January, 2012, alleging a
disability onset date of July 30, 2011. (Tr. 151-58). Her
claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr.
54-72, 75-96). A hearing was held on April 1, 2014, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 26-53).
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms. Tegeler
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 8-25). The Appeals
Council (“AC”) denied Ms. Tegeler's request
for review, (Tr. 1-6), so the ALJ's decision constitutes
the final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Tegeler suffered from the severe impairments
of bipolar disorder with psychotic features and
schizoaffective disorder. (Tr. 14). Despite these
impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms. Tegeler retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform work at all exertional levels. However, the claimant
is limited to work in a low-stress job, which is defined as
requiring only occasional decision making or changes in the
work setting. The claimant can also be expected to be off
task at times during a workday, but not more than 10% of a
normal workday in addition to regularly scheduled breaks.
(Tr. 16). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms.
Tegeler could perform work existing in significant numbers in
the national economy and that, therefore, she was not
disabled. (Tr. 20-21).
Tegeler raises two primary arguments on appeal. First, she
argues that the ALJ improperly applied the mental health
listings to her case. Second, she contends that the Appeals
Council did not adequately consider the information presented
on appeal, particularly the opinion of a treating source,
Jack H. Hedblom, Ph.D., LCSW-C. Each of Ms. Tegeler's
arguments lacks merit and is addressed below.
Ms. Tegeler argues that the ALJ improperly applied the mental
health listings to her case. Pl. Mot. 18, 22; Pl. Reply 1-4.
Ms. Tegeler correctly notes that the ALJ should have cited
Listing 12.04 (Affective Disorders) in addition to the
Listing that was cited, 12.03 (Psychotic Disorders). However,
that error is harmless because the two listings require proof
of the same criteria. The ALJ considered Ms. Tegeler's
mental health records as a whole in addressing Listing 12.03,
and identification of Listing 12.04 would not have changed
Tegeler further asserts that the ALJ's Step Three
analysis was flawed because the ALJ merely cited to a list of
exhibits without providing actual analysis. Pl. Reply at 2.
Although the structure of the ALJ's opinion could have
been clearer, the ALJ expressly stated that he was providing
the supporting analysis “in the evaluation that
follows” rather than in the Step Three section of the
opinion. (Tr. 14-15). The ALJ then did in fact provide an
explanation for his conclusions that Ms. Tegeler had mild
restrictions in the domains of “activities of daily
living” and “social functioning, ” moderate
difficulties in “concentration, persistence, or pace,
” and one to two episodes of decompensation, each of
extended duration. (Tr. 17-19). Further, the ALJ expressly
addressed why he concluded that Ms. Tegeler had only mild
limitation in social functioning, where the non-examining
State agency physicians had believed her to have more
significant limitations. (Tr. 18-19). Those reasons included
her ability to work part-time as a bank teller and the lack
of objective evidence to support her need for breaks at work
to avoid dealing with people. Id. The ALJ also
credited the opinion of the medical expert, Dr. Muller, who
opined that Ms. Tegeler “is stable when she is in
compliance with the medication regimen.” (Tr. 19). This
Court's role is not to reweigh the evidence or to
substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ, but simply to
adjudicate whether the ALJ's decision was supported by
substantial evidence. See Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d
1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Here, the ALJ's decision
meets that standard.
Ms. Tegeler contends that the AC erroneously declined to
remand the case for new and material evidence, particularly
the opinion of a medical source, Jack H. Hedblom, Ph.D,
LCSW-C, who stated that he had treated Ms. Tegeler for years,
although “the frequency of [their] meetings was
governed by changes in [Ms. Tegeler's] residence.”
Pl. Mot. 20-23; Pl. Reply 4-6; (Tr. 562). The AC is required
to consider additional evidence submitted by a claimant only
where it is (1) new, (2) material, and (3) relates to the
period on or before the date of the ALJ hearing decision.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.970(b); 416.1470(b).
Evidence is new where “it is not duplicative or
cumulative[, ]” and is material where there is “a
reasonable possibility that the new evidence would have
changed the outcome.” Meyer v. Astrue, 662
F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Wilkins v.
Sec'y, Dep't of Health & Human
Servs., 953 F.2d 93, 96 (4th Cir.1991) (en
banc)). Moreover, “[m]aterial evidence is evidence
that relates to the claimant's condition for the time
period for which benefits were denied, and not to
after-acquired conditions or post-decision deterioration of a
pre-existing condition.” Eidoen v. Apfel, 221
F.3d 1342 (8th Cir. 2000). “[T]he regulatory scheme
does not require the [AC] to do anything more than ...
‘consider new and material evidence ... in deciding
whether to grant review.'” Meyer v.
Astrue, 662 F.3d 700, 706 (4th Cir. 2011). The AC is not
required to take any specific action in response to new and
material evidence, and is not required to provide a detailed
explanation of its evaluation where it denies review.
Id. In this case, the AC decision specified that it
had considered the medical statement from Jack Hedblom, PhD.,
in addition to the other new records submitted at the
appellate level, but had “concluded that the additional
evidence does not provide a basis for changing the
Administrative Law Judge's decision.” (Tr. 2, 4).
It is unclear whether Dr. Hedblom's statement is
material, in light of the fact that no medical records were
provided to substantiate the nature of his ongoing treatment
of Ms. Tegeler and, specifically, her medical condition
during the period relevant to the ALJ's decision, instead
of evidence pre- or postdating that window. Regardless, even
if Dr. Hedblom's statement were viewed as material, the
AC fulfilled its legal obligation to consider the evidence in
deciding whether to grant review. Remand is therefore
reasons set forth herein, Ms. Tegeler's Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) is DENIED and Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17) is GRANTED. The
Commissioner's judgment is AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Clerk is directed to
CLOSE this case.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion and docketed as an order.
Stephanie A. Gallagher United ...