United States District Court, D. Maryland
January 24, 2016, Plaintiff Sabrina Longshore petitioned this
Court to review the Social Security Administration's
final decision to deny her claims for Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). (ECF No. 1). I have considered the
parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, and Ms.
Longshore's Motion to Add New and Material Exhibits. (ECF
Nos. 16, 18, 21). 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 both
parties' motions, reverse the Commissioner's
judgment, and remand the case to the Commissioner for further
consideration pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). In light of the remand, I will also deny Ms.
Longshore's motion to add new and material exhibits to
the record before this Court, [ECF No. 18], since those
additional materials can be added to the record on remand, if
appropriate. This letter explains my rationale.
Longshore filed her claims for benefits on July 17, 2012,
originally alleging a disability onset date of April 14,
2004. (Tr. 189-201). Her claims were denied
initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 137-44, 147-50). A
hearing was held on February 9, 2015, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 55-105).
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms. Longshore
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 34-54). The Appeals
Council denied Ms. Longshore's request for review. (Tr.
2-6). Thus, the ALJ's decision constitutes the final,
reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Longshore suffered from the severe impairments
of “degenerative disc disease of the spine;
degenerative joint disease of the left shoulder; asthma;
bipolar I disorder; anxiety disorder; and Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD).” (Tr. 40). Despite these
impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms. Longshore retained
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except the
claimant can stand and walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday;
and can sit for 6 hours with normal breaks in an 8-hour
workday. The claimant can occasionally climb ladders, ropes,
and scaffolds; and can perform frequent balancing. The
claimant can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
The claimant can occasionally perform overhead work with the
left upper extremity. The claimant can have occasional
exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, humidity, and fumes,
odors, gases, and other environmental irritants. The claimant
is capable of performing simple, repetitive, routine tasks;
and can have occasional interaction with the public and
supervisors. The claimant can tolerate occasional changes to
the work setting and can perform occasional work-related
(Tr. 42-43). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms.
Longshore could perform her past relevant work as an office
helper and that, therefore, she was not disabled. (Tr.
Longshore advances several arguments on appeal. Although many
of her arguments fail, I find remand to be warranted because
the ALJ failed to comply with the dictates of Mascio v.
Colvin, 780 F.3d 632 (4th Cir. 2015). In so
holding, I express no opinion as to whether the ALJ's
ultimate conclusion that Ms. Longshore was not entitled to
benefits is correct or incorrect.
briefly to some of the unsuccessful arguments, I am not
persuaded that the ALJ conducted an insufficient listing
analysis. Specifically, Ms. Longshore argues that the ALJ
failed to properly evaluate Listings 1.02, 1.03, and
1.04. The ALJ's opinion included the
The claimant's degenerative disc disease of the spine
does not satisfy the criteria of 1.04; the medical record
does not reflect the claimant has a disorder of the spine
resulting in the compromise of a nerve root or the spinal
cord, with evidence of nerve root compression characterized
by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion
of the spine, or motor loss, accompanied by sensory or reflex
loss and positive straight-leg raising tests (sitting and
supine). In addition, listing 1.03 is not met, because the
claimant can ambulate effectively, as defined in 1.00B2b. For
example, on January 19, 2013, the claimant ambulated with a
steady gait…The claimant's degenerative joint
disease of the left shoulder does not satisfy the criteria of
1.02, because the record reflects the claimant can perform
fine and gross movements effectively, as defined in 1.00B2c.
(Tr. 41) (citations omitted). The ALJ engaged in the required
analysis of each functional area and cited to record evidence
in support of his conclusions. See (Tr. 44-46).
Notably, the ALJ cited Ms. Longshore's normal findings
upon physical examination, and noted her
“unremarkable” results on MRIs, CT Scans, and
X-rays performed between 2011 and 2013. (Tr. 44-45).
Additionally, the ALJ noted that Ms. Longshore had “a
full range of motion of her upper and lower extremities with
normal muscle strength and tone, ” exhibited a
“normal” gait, and “did not require any
assistive device for ambulation.” (Tr. 46) (citations
omitted). Moreover, the ALJ noted that “physical
examinations generally reveal[ed] [Ms. Longshore] has a
normal range of motion in her left shoulder, ” and
cited Ms. Longshore's admission that her symptoms
improved with medication. (Tr. 45) (citing (Tr. 332-723,
858-71)). Ultimately, Ms. Longshore's arguments about the
inadequacy of the Listing analysis focus on the weight the
ALJ assigned to certain pieces of evidence over other pieces
of evidence. See Pl. Mot. 8-12. That inquiry is not
permissible, since 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).
Accordingly, I find that the ALJ properly evaluated the
relevant listings and supported his conclusions with
substantial evidence. Therefore, remand is not warranted on
Longshore's argument that the ALJ failed to properly
evaluate her credibility is also unpersuasive. See
Pl. Mot. 12-16. Specifically, she believes the ALJ erred by
failing to “provide any proper rationale as to why he
did not find [Ms. Longshore's] statements concerning the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of [her]
symptoms credible.” Id. at 12-13. “In
determining the credibility of the individual's
statements, the adjudicator must consider the entire case
record, including the objective medical evidence, the
individual's own statements about symptoms, statements
and other information provided by treating or examining
physicians…and any other relevant evidence in the case
record.” SSR 96-7P, 1996 WL 374186, at *1 (S.S.A. July
2, 1996). Contrary to Ms. Longshore's assertion, the ALJ
properly evaluated her credibility. Notably, the ALJ found
that Ms. Longshore's “longitudinal medical history
[was] inconsistent with her allegation of disability, with
several inconsistencies noted throughout the record.”
(Tr. 44). Specifically, the ALJ noted that although Ms.
Longshore “testified she had been using a cane for the
past several years…the record reflects [she] ambulates
with a steady gait and does not require an assistive device
for ambulation.” Id. In addition, the ALJ
noted that “while [Ms. Longshore] initially testified
she could lift her 40-pound child, she later testified she
has difficulty lifting a gallon of milk.” Id.
Moreover, the ALJ noted that “the longitudinal medical
record reflects a history of drug seeking behavior and
possible overuse of prescription drugs, which raises a
question as to whether [her] reported limitations and pain
are as disabling as alleged.” (Tr. 47). Ultimately, the
ALJ's detailed comparison of the record evidence to Ms.
Longshore's statements regarding her physical and mental
symptoms amply supports the ALJ's conclusion that Ms.
Longshore's alleged limitations were not entirely
credible. Thus, contrary to Ms. Longshore's argument, the
ALJ properly evaluated Ms. Longshore's credibility, and
supported his findings with substantial evidence.
equally unconvinced that the ALJ failed to assign weight to
the opinion of her treating physicians, Drs. Pritchett and
Smith. See Pl. Mot. 16-17. Notably,
there is no requirement that each practitioner's opinion
be explicitly addressed, where implicit assignments of weight
can provide an opportunity for meaningful review. Shaffer
v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec., No. CIV. SAG-10-1962,
2012 WL 707098, at *2 (D. Md. Mar. 2, 2012) (citation
omitted). Here, it is clear that the ALJ considered and
evaluated the records of Drs. Pritchett and Smith.
See (Tr. 44-48) (citing (Tr. 736-800; 872-76)).
However, a review of the medical evidence shows that the
records from Drs. Pritchett and Smith do not contain an
opinion as to Ms. Longshore's ability to perform specific
work related activities. See (Tr. 736-800; 858-76).
Notably, Dr. Pritchett's records contain a description of
Ms. Longshore's diagnoses and provide instructions
regarding how and when to take her prescribed medications.
See (Tr. 736-800; 872-76). Additionally, Dr.
Smith's records contain a brief narrative of his
impressions and recommendations following his evaluation of
Ms. Longshore. See (Tr. 858-71). Regardless, neither
Dr. Pritchett nor Dr. Smith opined as to whether Ms.
Longshore's symptoms affected her ability to perform
work-related activities. Labeling the measure of weight
afforded to these records would not provide any additional
information regarding the ALJ's evaluation of Ms.
Longshore's claim. Therefore, I find that the ALJ's
decision to not assign specific weight to the records from
Drs. Pritchett and Smith does not warrant remand.
I am unpersuaded that the ALJ erred in disregarding testimony
by the VE that Ms. Longshore was not eligible for
work.See Pl. Mot. 17-20. As an initial
matter, an ALJ is afforded “great latitude in posing
hypothetical questions, ” Koonce v. Apfel,
1999 WL 7864, at *5 (4th Cir. Jan. 11, 1999), and need only
pose those that are based on substantial evidence and
accurately reflect a claimant's limitations. See
Copeland v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 536, 540-41 (9th Cir. 1988).
Likewise, a hypothetical question is unimpeachable if it
adequately reflects the RFC for which the ALJ had sufficient
evidence. See Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 659
(4th Cir. 2005). In this case, the ALJ framed a hypothetical
based on the RFC. (Tr. 99-101). In response, the VE stated
that Ms. Longshore could perform several jobs existing in the
national economy. (Tr. 101-02). Subsequently, the ALJ asked a
second hypothetical that questioned whether the VE's
testimony changed if the hypothetical individual could
“only remain frequently on task due to symptoms from
impairments.” (Tr. 102). In response to the second
hypothetical, the VE stated that there were no “jobs
remaining for such an individual[.]” Id. Ms.
Longshore contends that the ALJ improperly disregarded this
admission in finding her able to perform light work. I
disagree. The VE's conclusion in the second hypothetical
depended on limitations absent from the RFC. Because the
second hypothetical was altered to include an impairment for
which the ALJ did not find sufficient evidence, the ALJ was
under no obligation to adhere to the VE's answer. Indeed,
the VE's testimony was relevant ...