United States District Court, D. Maryland
Zechariah L. Coates
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
Mr. Coates and Counsel:
9, 2016, Plaintiff Zechariah L. Coates 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 Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment
and the documents Mr. Coates filed in response. (ECF Nos. 26,
31, 32). 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 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.
Coates filed claims for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) on February 6, 2012. (Tr. 235-45). His
claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr.
90-94, 96-100, 102-09, 111-18). Hearings were held on April
17, 2014 and September 18, 2014, before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 30-88). Following the hearings,
the ALJ determined that Mr. Coates was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant
time frame. (Tr. 12-29). The Appeals Council
(“AC”) denied Mr. Coates's request for
review, (Tr. 5-8), so the ALJ's decision constitutes the
final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Mr. Coates suffered from the severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease, spondylosis, vision loss (left
eye), and obesity. (Tr. 17). Despite these impairments, the
ALJ determined that Mr. Coates retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) with the additional limitation that he can do work
that occasionally requires balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, crawling, and climbing, and that has a sit/stand
option that allows him to sit or stand alternately at
45-minute intervals, provided this person remains on task
while in either position during the work period. He can
perform jobs that require frequent handling and fingering
with his right hand. He can perform jobs that do not require
(Tr. 19). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr. Coates
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy and that, therefore, he was not disabled.
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). For the reasons described
below, substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.
proceeded in accordance with applicable law at all five steps
of the sequential evaluation. The ALJ ruled in Mr.
Coates's favor at step one and determined that he has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged
onset date. (Tr. 17); see 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). At step two, the ALJ
then considered the severity of each of the impairments that
Mr. Coates claimed prevented him from working. See
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii).
After finding at least one of Mr. Coates's impairments
severe, (Tr. 17), the ALJ continued with the sequential
evaluation and considered, in assessing Mr. Coates's RFC,
the extent to which his impairments limited his ability to
work. Specifically, in considering Mr. Coates's
allegation of “stress” as a mental health
impairment, the ALJ applied the special technique for
evaluation of mental impairments, but found no limitation in
the relevant functional areas. (Tr. 17-18).
three, the ALJ determined that Mr. Coates's impairments
did not meet the specific requirements of, or medically equal
the criteria of, any listings. (Tr. 19-24). In particular,
the ALJ considered the specific requirements of Listings 1.04
(disorders of the spine) and 2.04 (loss of visual
efficiency). See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.
1, §§ 1.04, 2.04. (Tr. 19). The ALJ identified the
precise elements of each listing that had not been satisfied.
Id. I have carefully reviewed the record, and I
agree that no listings are met.
considering Mr. Coates's RFC, the ALJ summarized his
subjective complaints from his hearing testimony. (Tr. 20).
The ALJ then engaged in a detailed review of his medical
records and objective testing. (Tr. 20-21). The ALJ relied
heavily on the results of a 2014 consultative examination, in
which the doctor reported that Mr. Coates “sat
comfortably throughout the evaluation, handled objects
freely, and hears and speaks without difficulty”
despite issues with ambulation and movement. (Tr. 21). Based
on this evidence, and Mr. Coates's testimony that he
thought he could perform sedentary work but had been unable
to procure such employment, the ALJ determined that Mr.
Coates was capable of sustaining sedentary work. The ALJ also
evaluated the opinions of the State agency consultants, and
assigned “little weight” to their conclusions
that Mr. Coates could perform light work, given the evidence
from the consultative examination and the examination from
Mr. Coates's treating physician, Dr. Kozachuk. (Tr. 22).
my review of the ALJ's decision is confined to whether
substantial evidence, in the record as it was reviewed by the
ALJ, supports the decision and whether correct legal
standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390, 404 (1971). Even if there is other evidence
that may support Mr. Coates's position, I am not
permitted to reweigh the evidence or to substitute my own
judgment for that of the ALJ. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In considering the entire
record, and the evidence outlined above, I find the ALJ's
RFC determination that Mr. Coates could perform sedentary
work was supported by substantial evidence.
the ALJ determined that, pursuant to his RFC assessment, Mr.
Coates was unable to perform his past relevant work as a
stock clerk and security guard. (Tr. 22-23). Accordingly, the
ALJ proceeded to step five and considered the impact of Mr.
Coates's age and level of education on his ability to
adjust to new work. Id. In doing so, the ALJ cited
the VE's testimony that a person with Mr. Coates's
RFC would be capable of performing the jobs of “charge
account clerk, ” “order clerk, ” and
“security surveillance monitor.” (Tr. 24). Based
on the VE's testimony, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Coates
was capable of successfully adjusting to other work that
exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
Id. Accordingly, I find that the ALJ's
determination was supported by substantial evidence.
support of his request for remand, Mr. Coates has filed two
separate reports from his treating neurologist, Dr. Kozachuk.
[ECF Nos. 31, 32]. Because those reports were not provided to
the Commissioner in the underlying proceedings, they can only