United States District Court, D. Maryland
November 13, 2015, Plaintiff David Anthony Schenning
petitioned this Court to review the Social Security
Administration's final decision to deny his claims for
Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income. (ECF No. 1). I have considered the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment, and Mr. Schenning's
reply. (ECF Nos. 18, 23, 24). 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 Mr.
Schenning'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.
Schenning filed his claims for benefits on April 12, 2012,
alleging a disability onset date of April 11, 2011. (Tr.
250-64). His claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration. (Tr. 86-99, 102-25). A hearing was held on
April 2, 2014, before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ"). (Tr. 45-85). Following the hearing, the
ALJ determined that Mr. Schenning was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time
frame. (Tr. 22-32). The Appeals Council denied Mr.
Schenning's request for review, (Tr. 1-6), so the
ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision
of the Agency.
found that Mr. Schenning suffered from the severe impairments
of "degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine status
post lumbar fusion in February 2012 and borderline
obesity." (Tr. 24). Despite these impairments, the ALJ
determined that Mr. Schenning retained the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except he can occasionally climb ramps or stairs,
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, but he can never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant must avoid
concentrated exposure to workplace hazards.
(Tr. 26). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert ("VE"), the ALJ determined that Mr.
Schenning could perform jobs existing in significant numbers
in the national economy and that, therefore, he was not
disabled. (Tr. 31-32).
sole argument on appeal is that the ALJ provided an
inadequate analysis of Listing 1.04A. The ALJ found as
The claimant's impairment of degenerative disc disease
does not meet listing 1.04 because he does not have evidence
of nerve root compression, consistent limitation of motion of
the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle
weakness or muscle weakness), sensory or reflex loss, or
positive straight leg raising tests in both the sitting and
(Tr. 26). Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to list
specific evidence to support her conclusions. Because I find
the ALJ's assertion of a lack of evidence to support a
finding of "nerve root compression" is accurate, I
affirm the ALJ's conclusion.
listing has been identified for evaluation, the best practice
is to provide an extensive evaluation of the evidence
pertaining to that listing. Here, however, I concur with the
ALJ that there is a lack of evidence to support a finding
that Plaintiff suffered from nerve root compression, which is
a necessary prerequisite to a finding that a claimant's
condition meets or equals Listing 1.04A. In so concluding, I
express no opinion as to whether the ALJ correctly analyzed
the remaining subparts of Listing 1.04A, such as muscle
weakness, sensory loss, or positive straight leg raising
tests. In the absence of evidence of nerve root compression,
any error in those analyses of the additional subparts would
respect to nerve root compression, as the ALJ found, there is
no evidence in the record of such a finding or diagnosis.
None of the objective medical testing found nerve root
compression, and no physician diagnosed nerve root
compression from his or her clinical observations or
examinations. Plaintiffs contention, essentially, is that the
ALJ should have inferred the presence of nerve root
compression from his clinical symptoms and from his diagnosis
of "sciatica, " which can be, but is not always,
caused by nerve root compression. PI. Mot. 12-13. Nothing in
the existing law compels an ALJ to engage in that level of
medical diagnosis or to ferret out the likely or possible
causes of a claimant's medical condition. The claimant
bears the burden of proof at the first four steps of the
sequential evaluation, including the listing analysis at step
three. See Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th
Cir. 1995) (noting that the burden rests with the claimant,
through the first four steps of the sequential evaluation, to
present evidence establishing disability during the relevant
period). Here, where no physician expressly diagnosed nerve
root compression, and where no objective testing reflected
impingement of a nerve root, the ALJ made a factually correct
statement that Plaintiff "does not have evidence of
nerve root compression." (Tr. 26). Accordingly, no
further analysis of the listing was required by Fox v.
Colvin, 632 F.App'x 750 (4th Cir. 2015), or
Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288 (4th Cir. 2013),
because there was no ambiguity in the evidence to be
reasons set forth herein, Mr. Schenning's Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18) is DENIED and Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 23) 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