United States District Court, D. Maryland
R. Schlitz, Jr., Esq.
Jennifer H. Stinnette, Esq.
before this court, by the parties' consent (ECF Nos. 2,
7), are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment
(“Plaintiff's Motion”) (ECF Nos. 14, 15) and
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
(“Defendant's Motion”) (ECF No. 18). The
undersigned 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Cir. 1996), superseded by statute, 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(d)(2). I have reviewed the pleadings and the record
in this case and find that no hearing is necessary. Loc. R.
105.6. For the reasons noted below, Plaintiff's Motion
(ECF Nos. 14, 15) is denied, Defendant's Motion (ECF No.
18) is denied, the Commissioner's decision is reversed,
and the case is remanded to the Commissioner for further
April 10, 2012, plaintiff filed a Title II application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits, and
protectively filed a Title XVI application for supplemental
security income, both alleging disability beginning on August
3, 2011. (R. at 206-15.) Her claims were initially denied on
July 26, 2012 (id. at 76-99, 130-37), and on
reconsideration on February 12, 2013 (id. at 100-29,
145-46, 149-50). After a hearing held on September 11, 2014,
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a
decision on October 31, 2014 denying benefits based on a
determination that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on
April 27, 2016, making the ALJ's opinion the final and
reviewable decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at
1-7.) Plaintiff challenges the Commissioner's decision on
the grounds that the ALJ: (1) failed to respond to
counsel's request for a subpoena for plaintiff's
mental health records; (2) failed to properly evaluate the
severity of plaintiff's obesity; (3) improperly
discredited a treating physician's opinion; and (4)
improperly evaluated plaintiff's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 15-1 at 11-16.)
plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to respond to
plaintiff's request to subpoena her mental health
records, and improperly relied on the opinion of a single
consultative examiner to conclude that plaintiff's
depression was non-severe. (Id. at 11-12.)
“When it is reasonably necessary for the full
presentation of a case, ” an ALJ may, at the request of
a party, issue subpoenas for the production of records or
other documents that are material to an issue at the hearing.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.950(d)(1), 416.1450(d)(1). The
party wishing to subpoena documents must file a written
request, which must include the names of the documents to be
produced; describe the location of the documents with
sufficient detail to find them; state the important facts
that the document is expected to prove; and indicate why
those facts could not be proven without issuing a subpoena.
Id. §§ 404.950(d)(2), 416.1450(d)(2).
Here, it is plain from the record that plaintiff's
subpoena request did not comply with the regulations.
(See R. at 177-81.) Nevertheless, the ALJ should
have notified plaintiff of the deficiencies in her request
and denied it on the record, rather than simply ignoring it.
Particularly considering that plaintiff's request
included treatment records from plaintiff's treating
mental health physician, Dr. Veronica Franklin, in the
absence of those records, the ALJ's evaluation of Dr.
Franklin's opinion cannot, as a matter of law, be
supported by substantial evidence. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(c)(2), 416.927(c)(2) (requiring ALJ to
give “controlling weight” to a treating
physician's opinion so long as the opinion is
“well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques”). Accordingly, remand
is warranted on this issue.
plaintiff contends that the ALJ did not properly account for
plaintiff's obesity in evaluating plaintiff's RFC,
and failed to consider how plaintiff's obesity
exacerbated her degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and
depression. (ECF No. 15-1 at 12-13.) According to SSR 02-1p,
“the combined effects of obesity with other impairments
can be greater than the effects of each of the impairments
considered separately.” SSR 02-1p, 2002 WL 34686281, at
*1 (Sept. 12, 2002). Accordingly, SSR 02-1p instructs the ALJ
to “consider the effects of obesity . . . when
assessing a claim at other steps of the sequential evaluation
process, including when assessing an individual's
residual functional capacity.” Id. In this
case, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's obesity was
severe and noted that it may have an adverse impact on other
impairments. (R. at 34.) Specifically, the ALJ observed that
“[s]omeone with obesity and arthritis . . . may have
more pain and limitation than might be expected from
arthritis alone, ” and that “obesity may limit an
individual's ability to sustain activity on a regular and
continuing basis during an eight-hour day.”
(Id.) Although the ALJ correctly noted these
considerations, she failed to apply them in plaintiff's
case. Indeed, besides these general remarks and a recitation
of the regulations, the ALJ does not so much as mention
plaintiff's obesity at any other point in her opinion.
Thus, the court has no basis by which to determine whether
the ALJ properly considered plaintiff's obesity in
assessing plaintiff's work-related limitations at step
four of the sequential evaluation. See Radford v.
Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2013) (“A
necessary predicate to engaging in substantial evidence
review is a record of the basis for the ALJ's ruling
[including] specific application of the pertinent legal
requirements to the record evidence.”) Accordingly, the
court concludes that the ALJ's evaluation of
plaintiff's obesity is not supported by substantial
plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion
of plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Franklin. (R. at
13-15.) The ALJ must generally give more weight to a treating
physician's opinion. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527(d)(2), 416.927(d)(2). Where a treating
physician's opinion is not supported by clinical evidence
or is inconsistent with other substantial evidence, however,
the ALJ should afford it significantly less weight.
Id.; Craig, 76 F.3d at 590. If the ALJ does
not give a treating source's opinion controlling weight,
the ALJ must assign weight after considering several factors,
including the length and nature of the treatment
relationship, the degree to which the physician's opinion
is supported by the record as a whole, and any other factors
that support or contradict the opinion. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(c)(1)-(6), 416.927(c)(1)- (6). Here,
Dr. Franklin opined that plaintiff had poor to no ability to
relate to co-workers; deal with the public; interact with
supervisors; deal with work stressors; understand, remember,
and carry out complex and detailed job instructions; behave
in an emotionally stable manner; and relate predictably in
social situations. (R. at 750-51.) The ALJ, however, failed
to assign Dr. Franklin's opinion any weight at all,
noting only that “Dr. Franklin's opinion is not
consistent with the treatment record.” (Id. at
39.) As noted above, however, the record that the ALJ
considered did not include Dr. Franklin's own treatment
history. Although the ALJ noted that plaintiff's mental
status examination findings were “essentially
unremarkable, ” (id.), she did not explain in
any reviewable detail why the results of non-treating medical
sources warranted rejecting Dr. Franklin's opinion
wholesale. Further, the ALJ stated that “while Dr.
Franklin opines that the claimant has poor to no ability in
interacting with others, the claimant reported . . . that she
goes out in public daily and interacts with friends and close
family.” (Id.) Plaintiff can hardly be
penalized for going out in public, and the fact that
plaintiff's social interactions are limited to friends
and close family does not, in and of itself, undermine Dr.
Franklin's findings of poor ability to interact with
co-workers and other members of the public.
plaintiff argues that the above-noted failures in the
ALJ's analysis resulted in an erroneous RFC
determination. For the reasons discussed above, the court
concludes that remand is warranted so that the Commissioner
may correct the errors in its analysis, and re-evaluate
plaintiff's RFC accordingly. In so holding, the court
expresses no opinion on the merits of the Commissioner's
reasons stated above, Plaintiff's Motion (ECF Nos. 14,
15) is DENIED and Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 18) is
DENIED. Pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
the Commissioner's judgment is REVERSED due to inadequate