United States District Court, D. Maryland
Elaine Dolinger 3915 Grier Nursery Road Street, MD 21154
Winakur Harris Social Security Administration 6401 Security
Boulevard Room 617 Baltimore, MD 21235
Ms. Dolinger and Counsel:
January 22, 2016, Plaintiff Tammy Elaine Dolinger petitioned
this Court to review the Social Security Administration's
final decision to deny her claim for Supplemental Security
Income. (ECF No. 1). I have considered the Commissioner's
Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 24). Ms. Dolinger, who
appears pro se, has not filed a
response. 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). For the reasons set forth below, I will deny the
Commissioner's motion, reverse the decision of the
Commissioner in part, and remand the case pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Dolinger filed a claim for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) on November 8, 2012. (Tr. 153-58). She
initially alleged a disability onset date of September 3,
2008. Id. Her claim was denied
initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 98-101, 105-08). A
hearing, at which Ms. Dolinger was represented by counsel,
was held on August 19, 2014, before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 34-64). Following the
hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms. Dolinger was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during
the relevant time frame. (Tr. 15-33). The Appeals Council
(“AC”) denied Ms. Dolinger's request for
review, (Tr. 1-7), so the ALJ's decision constitutes the
final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Dolinger suffered from the severe impairments
of “affective disorders (bipolar and depression),
anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder.” (Tr.
20). Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Dolinger retained the residual functional capacity
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: The claimant is
limited to work that is simple and routine. She can perform
work that does not require her to maintain attention and
concentration for extended periods or for more than 90
percent of an 8-hour day.
23). After considering the testimony of a vocational expert
(“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms. Dolinger
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy and that, therefore, she 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, the ALJ did not provide substantial evidence to
support her conclusions regarding Ms. Dolinger's mental
impairments, and remand is warranted.
proceeded in accordance with applicable law at all five steps
of the sequential evaluation. The ALJ ruled in Ms.
Dolinger's favor at step one, and determined that she has
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged
onset date. (Tr. 20); see 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(i). At step two, the ALJ considered the
severity of each of the impairments that Ms. Dolinger claimed
prevented her from working. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii). After finding at least one of Ms.
Dolinger's impairments severe, (Tr. 20), the ALJ
continued with the sequential evaluation and considered, in
assessing Ms. Dolinger's RFC, the extent to which her
impairments limited her ability to work.
three, the ALJ determined that Ms. Dolinger's impairments
did not meet the specific requirements of, or medically equal
the criteria of, any listings. (Tr. 27-29). The ALJ
considered the specific requirements of Listing 12.04, which
pertains to affective disorders, and Listing 12.06, which
pertains to anxiety disorders. See 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404, Subpt. P, App. 1, §§ 12.04, 12.06. In
considering Listing 12.04, the ALJ applied the special
technique for evaluation of mental impairments, and
determined that Ms. Dolinger had “mild
restriction” in activities of daily living and social
functioning, “moderate difficulties” in
concentration, persistence or pace, and no episodes of
decompensation. (Tr. 21-22). I have carefully reviewed the
record, and I agree that no listings are met.
considering Ms. Dolinger's RFC, the ALJ summarized her
subjective complaints, including her “bipolar
depression and anxiety” diagnoses, “her
limitations in focusing and remembering, ” her
“difficulty in crowds, ” and her “symptoms
including nervousness, anhedonia, racing thoughts, suicidal
ideation, decreased energy, sleep disturbances, and panic
attacks.” (Tr. 24). However, the ALJ determined that
Ms. Dolinger's subjective complaints were not entirely
credible, and cited objective medical evidence contradicting
Ms. Dolinger's alleged limitations. The ALJ noted that
Ms. Dolinger is able to “handle her finances, ”
“do her own laundry and dishes, prepare simple meals,
drive a car, and take care of her personal needs.”
Id. In addition, the ALJ noted that although Ms.
Dolinger “alleges that her mental impairment diminishes
her daily activities, her social functioning and her ability
to focus and concentrate…her written statements, as
well as those of her mother, and her testimony about her
activities of daily living and capabilities contradict her
claim that she cannot work.” (Tr. 26). Moreover, the
ALJ found that “[Ms. Dolinger's] allegations [were]
not supported by the objective medical evidence.” (Tr.
25). In particular, the ALJ noted that the records “do
not support the severity [Ms. Dolinger] alleges, ” and
“indicate relatively normal functioning despite her
symptoms.” Id. Accordingly, the ALJ determined
that “[t]he existing evidence suggests that [Ms.
Dolinger's] mental impairments are mild to moderate and
her functioning is more substantial than she claims.”
at step four, the ALJ found that Ms. Dolinger had no past
relevant work. (Tr. 28). Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to
step five, where she considered the impact of Ms.
Dolinger's age and level of education on her ability to
adjust to new work. Id. At step five, the ALJ posed
hypotheticals to the VE to determine whether a person with
each set of hypothetical criteria would be able to find work.
(Tr. 57-58). Ultimately, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Dolinger's RFC matched one of the hypotheticals posed.
(Tr. 28-29). The VE cited several jobs, including
“janitor, ” “stock clerk, ”
“packer, ” “inspector, ” assembler,
” and “addresser, ” in response to that
hypothetical, and the ALJ relied on that VE testimony in her
opinion. (Tr. 28-29, 57-58).
function of this Court is not to review Ms. Dolinger's
claim de novo or to reweigh the evidence of record.
See Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir.
1986) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and Blalock v.
Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972)). Rather,
this Court is to determine whether, upon review of the whole
record, the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence and a proper application of the law.