United States District Court, D. Maryland
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge.
to Standing Order 2014-01, the above-referenced case has been
referred to me for review of the parties' dispositive
motions and to make recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 301.5(b)(ix). I have
considered the Commissioner's motion for summary
judgment. [ECF No. 18]. Plaintiff, Cameron Nicole Parker, who
appears pro se, did not file a motion for summary
judgment and did not file an opposition to the
Commissioner's motion. This Court must uphold the
Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial
evidence and if proper legal standards were employed. 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996); Coffman v.
Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). I find that no
hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.
2016). For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that the
Commissioner's motion be denied, and the case be remanded
to the Commissioner for further explanation of the evaluation
of the medical evidence.
Parker filed applications for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) on June 20, 2012, alleging a disability
onset date of November 5, 2011. (Tr. 215-27). Her
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration.
(Tr. 129-33, 138-41). After a hearing on January 27, 2015, an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued an
opinion denying benefits. (Tr. 54-69). Ms. Parker, who was
represented by counsel throughout the administrative
proceedings, appealed the decision. (Tr. 52-53). However, the
Appeals Council (“AC”) denied review, making the
ALJ's decision the final, reviewable decision of the
Agency. (Tr. 1-6).
relevant part, the ALJ found that Ms. Parker suffered from
the severe impairments of “congenital heart defect
(status post multiple surgeries);” pulmonary
hypertension, and asthma. (Tr. 59). Despite those
impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms. Parker retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a), except that the claimant requires a sit/stand
option on an occasional basis and can perform work involving
only occasional postural activity; no excessive environmental
conditions; and no climbing, or exposure to heights or
(Tr. 60). The ALJ further determined that Ms. Parker was
unable to perform her past relevant work, but could perform
other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy. (Tr. 64-65). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Ms.
Parker was not disabled. (Tr. 65).
Ms. Parker appears pro se, I have carefully reviewed
the ALJ's opinion and the entire record. 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). I have particularly considered the
arguments Ms. Parker's prior counsel raised during the
administrative proceedings. (Tr. 305-06). In reviewing those
arguments, it became clear that prior counsel submitted a set
of medical records, entered into the record as Exhibits
9F-11F, that were not considered by either the ALJ or the AC.
See (Tr. 387-94). Accordingly, remand is appropriate
to allow for a full evaluation of those records.
the ALJ proceeded in accordance with applicable law at all
five steps of the sequential evaluation. The ALJ ruled in Ms.
Parker's favor at step one, and determined that she did
not engage in substantial gainful activity after her alleged
onset date of November 5, 2011. (Tr. 59); see 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). At step two, the ALJ
considered the severity of each of the impairments that Ms.
Parker claimed prevented her from working. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). As noted above, the ALJ
concluded that several of Ms. Parker's alleged
impairments were severe. (Tr. 59). The ALJ further determined
that Ms. Parker's depression, bone aches, and mild
obesity were non-severe, providing citations to the medical
evidence of record to support those conclusions. (Tr. 59-60).
three, the ALJ determined that Ms. Parker's impairments
did not meet the specific requirements of, or medically equal
the criteria of, any listings. (Tr. 60). The ALJ specifically
identified Listings 4.02 (chronic heart failure), 4.05
(arrhythmias), and 4.06 (symptomatic congenital heart
disease), and cited to the specific criteria for each listing
that had not been met. Id.
considering Ms. Parker's RFC assessment, the ALJ
summarized her subjective complaints of disabling breathing
problems, heart problems, and bone aches, and her reported
limited activities of daily living. (Tr. 61). The ALJ
determined that Ms. Parker's subjective complaints were
not entirely credible, because her “course of
treatment, medications, and progress notes do not fully
support her allegations.” Id. The ALJ
summarized the evidence showing that Ms. Parker's
congenital heart disease causes chest pain, shortness of
breath, and fatigue. (Tr. 61-62). However, the ALJ concluded
that she remained capable of a restricted range of sedentary
work to account for her “significant, credible exercise
intolerance.” (Tr. 62). In support of that conclusion,
the ALJ relied on the fact that her last surgery was in 2013
and she has not required hospitalization or significant
emergency room treatment since that date. Id. The
ALJ noted that, at her most frequent appointments, there had
been no evidence of “cyanosis, heart failure, ischemia,
or similar problems.” Id. The ALJ noted that
the State agency consultants had believed Ms. Parker to be
capable of greater exertion, but that her treating physicians
had provided statements indicating that she would be more
limited. (Tr. 63). The ALJ assigned “little
weight” to the treating physicians' opinions,
citing medical evidence showing no peripheral edema or heart
failure, an ability to sit without physical activity, the
relatively new treatment relationship at the time one
physician issued his opinion, and the fact that one other
physician found no physical explanation for Ms. Parker's
shortness of breath. Id. Accordingly, the ALJ's
RFC assessment of Ms. Parker's exertional capacity fell
between the recommendations of the non-examining physicians
and the treating physicians.
four, the ALJ found that Ms. Parker was unable to perform her
past relevant work because those jobs were “either
light or medium in exertion.” (Tr. 63). However, after
considering the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found that Ms.
Parker was capable of a restricted range of sedentary jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such
as food and beverage worker, surveillance system monitor, and
telephone information clerk. (Tr. 64).
the issue with this case lies not in the analysis contained
within the ALJ opinion, but in the Commissioner's
apparent failure to consider medical records later submitted
by Ms. Parker's attorney to the Appeals Council. In his
letter of March 26, 2015, Ms. Parker's then-counsel
Attached please find progress notes from Dr. Thomas Traill,
the Claimant's new cardiologist at Johns Hopkins
Hospital, and Dr. Traill's Certified Registered Nurse
Practitioner, Gail Beth Hefner. The Claimant is treating with
this new provider due to insurance issues. Dr. Traill writes
that the Claimant “is clearly disabled and should not
be working.” He notes that the Claimant's conduit
has “a very loud murmur and evidence of more than
moderate right ventricular hypertension, ” and will
most likely need to be replaced. Please note that Dr. Traill
is the third board certified cardiologist who has considered
cardiac surgery for the Claimant within the past two years.
Dr. Traill's treatment notes corroborate Exhibit 4F, in
which Dr. Haque opines that the Claimant will need cardiac
surgery, and Exhibit 5F, in which Dr. Fisher writes that the
Claimant may need revision surgery or a defibrillator
(Tr. 306). Oddly, however, rather than becoming part of the
record as attachments to counsel's March 25, 2016 letter,
Dr. Traill's treatment notes and the related records from
Johns Hopkins Hospital ...