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 Commissioner's
dispositive motion, (ECF No. 16), and to make recommendations
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule
301.5(b)(ix). The Plaintiff, Fred Lee Dixon, who is appearing
pro se, did not file a motion for summary judgment
but filed a response to the Commissioner's Motion for
Summary Judgment. I have considered the Commissioner's
Motion and Mr. Dixon's response. [ECF Nos. 16, 18]. 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 recommend that the Court grant the
Commissioner's motion and affirm the Commissioner's
judgment pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
Dixon filed a claim for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) on August 2, 2012, alleging a disability
onset date of February 2, 2012. (Tr. 129-37). His claim was
denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 76-79, 85-86).
A hearing, at which Mr. Dixon was represented by counsel, was
held on January 29, 2015, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 28- 56). Following the hearing, the
ALJ determined that Mr. Dixon was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time
frame. (Tr. 6-26). The Appeals Council denied Mr. Dixon's
request for review, (Tr. 1-5), so the ALJ's decision
constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Mr. Dixon suffered from the severe impairments of
“post-traumatic stress disorder; possible anti-social
personality disorder; history of cannabis abuse; borderline
intellectual functioning.” (Tr. 11). Despite these
impairments, the ALJ determined that Mr. Dixon retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels.
However, the claimant is limited to simple, routine,
repetitive tasks in a work environment free of fast-paced
production requirements, involving only simple work-related
decisions and few, if any, workplace changes. Additionally,
the claimant can have only occasional interaction with the
public and coworkers, and requires isolated work with only
(Tr. 14). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr. Dixon
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). I have also considered all
of the arguments raised by Mr. Dixon's prior attorney in
his May 20, 2015 letter to the Appeals Council. (Tr. 211-12).
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.
Dixon's favor at step one and determined that he has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since his application
date. (Tr. 11); see 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(i). At step two, the ALJ then considered the
severity of each of the impairments that Mr. Dixon claimed
prevented him from working. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii). Notably, the ALJ found Mr. Dixon's
toothaches, headaches, occasional cold and sore throat
symptoms, alleged lead toxicity, and back impairment to be
non-severe. (Tr. 11). With respect to the toothaches,
headaches, and cold and sore throat symptoms, the ALJ
determined them to be “transient” and treatable
with conservative measures. Id. The ALJ noted that
two blood tests showed no evidence of lead toxicity.
Id. The ALJ provided a more thorough analysis of Mr.
Dixon's alleged back impairment, noting that despite
complaints of back pain, the physical examinations and
objective tests were either normal or only mildly abnormal.
(Tr. 15-16). The ALJ concluded that “objective findings
do not suggest any significant limitation, ” that
“complaints of back pain have been treated with
relatively conservative measures, ” and that “the
claimant continued to exercise by walking or even
running.” (Tr. 16). In light of that evidence, the ALJ
found Mr. Dixon's back impairment to be non-severe.
Id. However, after finding at least one of Mr.
Dixon's impairments severe, id., the ALJ
continued with the sequential evaluation and considered, in
assessing Mr. Dixon's RFC, the extent to which his
impairments limited his ability to work.
three, the ALJ determined that Mr. Dixon's severe mental
health impairments did not meet the specific requirements of,
or medically equal the criteria of, any listings. (Tr.
12-14). In particular, the ALJ considered the specific
requirements of Listing 12.04 (affective disorders), 12.06
(anxiety related disorders), 12.08 (personality disorders),
12.05 (borderline intellectual functioning), and 12.09
(substance addiction disorders). See 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404, Subpt. P, App. 1, §§ 12.04, 12.06, 12.08,
12.05, 12.09. The first three Listings require proof of the
same set of “paragraph B” criteria, and the ALJ
concluded that Mr. Dixon had mild restriction in activities
of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning
and concentration, persistence, or pace, and no episodes of
decompensation of extended duration. (Tr. 12-13). The ALJ
supported those assessments with citations to the evidence of
record. Id. Under each of the three listings, a
claimant would need to show at least two areas of marked
difficulty, or repeated episodes of decompensation, to meet
the listing criteria. Accordingly, the ALJ did not err in his
conclusion. With respect to Listing 12.09, the ALJ concluded
that “the record does not establish the requisite level
of behavioral changes or physical changes associated with the
regular use of substances that affect the central nervous
system.” (Tr. 14). Finally, with respect to Listing
12.05, the ALJ ruled that Mr. Dixon did not establish
“significantly subaverage general intellectual
functioning with deficits in adaptive functioning initially
manifested during the developmental period, before age
22.” (Tr. 13). The ALJ noted that academic records
showed that Mr. Dixon was on a regular curriculum at school,
but had excessive absences resulting in poor academic
performance. Id. Moreover, the ALJ cited Mr.
Dixon's decision to leave his grandmother's house to
join the Job Corps at age 16 as “evidencing a high
degree of independence.” Id. Mr. Dixon's
prior attorney argued that the ALJ did not specifically
evaluate Listings 12.05(C) or 12.05(D), but each of those
subsections still requires evidence of deficits in adaptive
functioning prior to the age of 22. Accordingly, the
ALJ's analysis adequately encompassed those listings, and
no listings are met.
considering Mr. Dixon's RFC, the ALJ summarized his
subjective complaints from his hearing testimony. (Tr. 15).
The ALJ then engaged in a detailed review of Mr. Dixon's
medical records and objective testing. (Tr. 15-18). As
discussed above, the ALJ began with a detailed recitation of
the medical evidence of Mr. Dixon's back impairment,
ultimately concluding that the impairment was non-severe.
(Tr. 15-16). As for the mental impairments, the ALJ again
summarized the medical treatment, including the relatively
mild findings of depression upon clinical examination. (Tr.
16-17). The ALJ reviewed the psychiatric consultative
examination, which included again relatively minor findings,
reports of basically normal activities of daily living, and
psychological testing resulting in a borderline full-scale IQ
score of 70. (Tr. 17). The ALJ noted that the consultative
examiner diagnosed “mood disorder, cannabis abuse, and
borderline intellectual functioning.” Id. The
ALJ also discussed that the consultative examiner had asked
that lead toxicity be ruled out, but noted that two distinct
blood tests had been negative. Id.
the ALJ assessed the treatment notes and opinions from Mr.
Dixon's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Sarah M. Gillman. (Tr.
17). The ALJ noted that during the initial appointment, Mr.
Dixon presented with few significant symptoms except a
depressed and irritable mood, and irritated affect.
Id. Mr. Dixon had reported to Dr. Gillman
“that he was trying to work, but it was hard to find
work because of prior gun charges.” Id. In
light of Dr. Gillman's assessment of Mr. Dixon's
exposure to violence involving family members, she diagnosed
post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder,
and cannabis use disorder, with a possibility of antisocial
personality disorder. (Tr. 18).
then reviewed Mr. Dixon's self-reported activities of
daily living, which demonstrated a high degree of
independence, and a work history exhibiting “evidence
that the claimant stopped working for reasons not related to
the allegedly disabling impairments.” (Tr. 19). The ALJ
also evaluated the opinion evidence, assigning some weight to
the opinions of the non-examining State agency physicians.
(Tr. 19). The ALJ assigned “little weight” to the
January 6, 2015 opinion of the treating psychiatrist, Dr.
Gillman, an the grounds that (1) the opinion is not well
supported by the less severe findings in the examination
notes from her examination of Mr. Dixon; (2) Dr. Gillman did
not have a significant longitudinal treatment history with
Mr. Dixon, having begun treatment in December, 2014; and (3)
the opinion is contradicted by the other record evidence
including Mr. Dixon's activities of daily living and his
conservative treatment. (Tr. 19-20). Based on this evidence,
the ALJ found that Mr. Dixon was able to perform the work
described in his RFC. (Tr. 20).
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. Dixon's position, I am not permitted
to reweigh the evidence or to substitute my own judgment for
that of the ALJ. See Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d
1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In considering the entire record,
and given the evidence outlined above, I find the ALJ's
RFC determination was supported by substantial evidence.
the ALJ determined that Mr. Dixon had past relevant work as a
warehouse worker, concrete finisher, and laborer, but that he
would be unable to perform any of those jobs based on his
RFC. (Tr. 20). Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to step five,
where he considered the impact of Mr. Dixon's age and
level of education on his ability to adjust to new work. (Tr.
20-21). In doing so, the ALJ cited the VE's testimony
that a person with Mr. Dixon's RFC would be capable of
performing the jobs of “Night cleaner, ”
“Sorter/folder, ” “Janitor/cleaner, ”
and “Order picker/filler.” (Tr. 21). Based on the
VE's testimony, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Dixon was