United States District Court, D. Maryland
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
to Standing Order 2014-01, the above-captioned case has been
referred to me to review 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 parties' dispositive cross-motions. [ECF Nos. 12,
13]. 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. 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). For the reasons set forth
below, I recommend that both motions be denied, that the
Commissioner's decision be reversed in part pursuant to
sentence four, and that the case be remanded to the
Commissioner for further proceedings in accordance with this
Report and Recommendations.
27, 2012, Mr. Murray protectively filed an application for
Disability Insurance Benefits. (Tr. 306-14). His application
was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 146-56,
160-66). An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held
a hearing on January 22, 2015, at which Mr. Murray was
represented by counsel. (Tr. 69-91). Following the hearing,
the ALJ determined that Mr. Murray was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant
time frame. (Tr. 48-67). The Appeals Council denied Mr.
Murray's request for review, (Tr. 1-7), so the ALJ's
decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the
found that Mr. Murray suffered from the severe impairments of
“knee arthritis, degenerative disc disease, obesity,
pes planus and heel spur, asthma, and torn rotator
cuff.” (Tr. 53). Despite these impairments, the ALJ
determined that Mr. Murray retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with the
ability for routine tasks doing light work that is
semi-skilled with a sit/stand option at the work location in
which the claimant is allowed to alternate every two hours as
needed as required with normal breaks. The requirement for a
hand-held assistive device, namely a cane, for standing,
walking and balancing, which is constantly used and needed to
get to and from the work location. The claimant must avoid
heights, no pushing, no pulling, and no kneeling. The
claimant can stoop, but rarely. No limitations on
communication or vision. Reaching, fingering, handling and
feeling with the dominant upper extremity are limited to
frequently. The claimant can occasionally be exposed to dust,
gasses and pulmonary irritants. There are no mental
limitations. The claimant can constantly interact with
supervisors, co-workers and the general public.
(Tr. 54). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr. Murray
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy and that, therefore, he was not disabled.
Murray disagrees. He argues (1) that the ALJ erred in
evaluating and assigning weight to the opinions of the
treating and non-treating medical sources; (2) that the ALJ
erred in evaluating his credibility; and (3) that the Appeals
Counsel failed to properly consider new and material medical
evidence proffered by an examining physician, Dr. Bruno. I
agree that the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical source
opinions, and I therefore recommend remand. Also, on remand,
I recommend that the ALJ appropriately assess Dr. Bruno's
opinions. In so recommending, I express no opinion as to
whether the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Mr. Murray is
not entitled to benefits is correct or incorrect.
with the unsuccessful argument, there is no inherent error in
the ALJ's evaluation of Mr. Murray's credibility. The
ALJ included some boilerplate credibility language, but he
did not rely exclusively on that language. Instead, he cited
to specific inconsistencies between Mr. Murray's
testimony and his treatment records, inconsistencies between
the medical treatment records and the allegations in Mr.
Murray's Worker's Compensation claim, and statements
made by examining physicians suggesting that Mr. Murray may
have been attempting to manipulate the record to increase the
severity of his symptoms. (Tr. 55-56). Although Mr. Murray
disagrees with that evaluation and cites to some contrary
evidence, 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). In light
of the evidence cited by the ALJ to support his credibility
analysis, remand is unwarranted on that basis.
Mr. Murray fares better in his argument about the evaluation
of the medical source opinions. Three separate opinions
drafted by two different treating physicians stated that Mr.
Murray could sit, stand, and walk for a combined total of
four hours or fewer in an eight hour workday. See
(Tr. 614) (Dr. Carr); (Tr. 625) (Dr. Woodard); (Tr. 679) (Dr.
Carr). In assessing those three opinions, the ALJ assigned
“little weight” for the sole reason that,
“The claimant himself does not allege he is bedbound
for half the day or longer.” (Tr. 58). That
explanation, standing alone, does not constitute substantial
evidence to support the ALJ's conclusion. A claimant
would not need to be bedbound to justify significant
restrictions in his ability to sit, stand, or walk in a
workplace setting. Although the Commissioner contends that
the sit/stand option adequately addresses Mr. Murray's
difficulty with sustaining a position for prolonged periods,
even the sit/stand option in this case requires Mr. Murray to
remain in a single position for two hours at a time.
See (Tr. 54) (“the claimant is allowed to
alternate every two hours as needed”). Each two hour
window equals or exceeds the total amount of time
that two treating physicians believed Mr. Murray could stand
or sit during an eight hour workday. Without further
explanation, I am unable to evaluate how the ALJ reached his
conclusion about Mr. Murray's ability to sit, stand, or
walk for two hour blocks of time throughout an eight hour
workday. Accordingly, I recommend remand.
further note that the Appeals Council erred by alleging that
Dr. Bruno's October, 2015 opinion “is about a later
time” than the ALJ's decision of March 4, 2015. Dr.
Bruno's opinion expressly provides a detailed summary of
Mr. Murray's medical records from 2012-2015, and states
that the symptoms and related limitations in the opinion
applied “as far back as 04/01/2012.” (Tr. 29).
The Appeals Council is not required to provide any
explanation of its evaluation of new and material evidence,
see Meyer v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir.
2011), but in this case it did, and the explanation was
incorrect. Although I am not expressly recommending a
sentence six remand in this case, as this case is remanded on
the other grounds detailed above, I recommend that the ALJ
consider Dr. Bruno's reports and any other new and
material evidence in assessing Mr. Murray's ability to
work during the relevant time frame.
reasons set forth above, I respectfully recommend that:
1. the Court DENY Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
(ECF No. 13);
2. the Court DENY Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment