United States District Court, D. Maryland
GARY A. BECKMAN Claimant
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY
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' cross-motions for summary judgment, and the
related filings. (ECF Nos. 15, 17, 18, 19). 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 deny both motions, reverse the
judgment of the Commissioner, and remand the case to the
Commissioner for further analysis pursuant to sentence four
of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Beckman protectively filed claims for Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) on August 13, 2013, alleging a disability
onset date of June 25, 2013. (Tr. 209-21). His claims were
denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 85-100,
103-22). A hearing was held on September 3, 2015, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 50-84).
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Mr. Beckman
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 7-36). The Appeals
Council (“AC”) denied Mr. Beckman's request
for review, (Tr. 1-6), so the ALJ's decision constitutes
the final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Mr. Beckman suffered from the severe impairments
of “degenerative disc disease, cervical stenosis, and
ischemic heart disease.” (Tr. 12). Despite these
impairments, the ALJ determined that Mr. Beckman retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform a range of light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; he can occasionally
climb; and he can occasionally reach overhead with the
bilateral upper extremities.
(Tr. 14). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr.
Beckman could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in
the national economy and that, therefore, he was not
disabled. (Tr. 29-30).
Beckman raises two primary arguments on appeal: (1) that the
ALJ did not appropriately consider the opinions of his
treating nurse practitioner and physician's assistant;
and (2) that the ALJ erred in assessing his credibility. I
concur that the ALJ's credibility analysis is lacking,
and thus recommend remand for further explanation.
Beckman primarily argued that he was disabled as a result of
debilitating neck pain. See, e.g., (Tr. 54) (Mr.
Beckman's attorney arguing, “really the disability
seems to develop around the cervical area. It's related
to his back and his neck and then numbness that he has
throughout and that radiates out from that.”). When
asked what prevented him from working, Mr. Beckman testified:
My neck bothers me, I have trouble lifting my hands, I had
one wrist operated on for carpal tunnel and the morning after
I had it operated on I had another heart attack. So now
nobody will do anything for another year. I have to be on my
heart medication another year before anybody can even work on
my other wrist or they can do anything to my neck now.
(Tr. 61). “In determining the credibility of the
individual's statements, the adjudicator must consider
the entire case record, including the objective medical
evidence, the individual's own statements about symptoms,
statements and other information provided by treating or
examining physicians…and any other relevant evidence
in the case record.” SSR 96-7P, 1996 WL 374186, at *1
(S.S.A. July 2, 1996). An ALJ cannot rely exclusively on
objective evidence to undermine a claimant's subjective
assertions of disabling pain. See Lewis v.
Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858 (4th Cir. 2017).
in this case, the ALJ essentially fails to evaluate Mr.
Beckman's assertions of disabling neck pain. The ALJ does
consider Listing 1.04, for spine disorders, and explains the
finding that the Listing has not been met. (Tr. 13). The ALJ
also provides a lengthy and detailed summary of Mr.
Beckman's medical appointments, many of which include
descriptions of continuing neck and back pain. (Tr. 16-25).
However, when turning to an analysis of the medical evidence,
the ALJ focuses on cardiac-related appointments and
information. For example, the ALJ asserts that the
“treatment record does not support his allegations
regarding the severity of his limitations, ” (Tr. 25),
citing numerous appointments at which Mr. Beckman had normal
blood pressure and no heart symptoms. (Tr. 25-26). The ALJ
does state that there were “normal findings” on
neck examinations at two of those appointments, but that type
of objective evidence alone cannot be used to undermine Mr.
Beckman's assertions of neck pain. (Tr. 25-26). The ALJ
further asserts that medications and treatment have
effectively controlled Mr. Beckman's symptoms, citing the
fact that Nitroglycerin improves his chest pains and wrist
splints help his CTS. (Tr. 26). Again, there is no mention of
any of the treatment for his neck pain and whether or not it
is effective. The ALJ then establishes that Mr. Beckman has
no side effects from his medications. (Tr. 26). The ALJ
suggests that Mr. Beckman is not compliant with treatment
because he does not measure his blood pressure, which has no
relevance to neck pain. (Tr. 27). Ultimately, the ALJ
concludes that, “repeated physical examinations have
failed to reveal significant ongoing psychological,
respiratory, or cardiac signs, or significant neurological
deficits or decreased strength or range of motion, as would
be expected with the degree of limitation alleged.”
Id. Again, that conclusion makes no mention of pain.
absence of analysis of the alleged disabling pain, the
ALJ's opinion is not susceptible to effective appellate
review. Accordingly, remand is appropriate to allow the ALJ
to assess the primary reason that Mr. Beckman alleges he is
unable to work. In recommending remand, I express no opinion
as to whether the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Mr.
Beckman is capable of substantial gainful employment is
correct or incorrect.
Beckman's other argument is less persuasive. The ALJ did
not simply reject the opinions of Kenneth W. Hawk, CRNP, and
Jessica Livengood, PA-C, on the grounds that they were
non-acceptable medical sources. Id. Instead, the ALJ
assessed the contents of each opinion and explained the
substantive reasons for the assignments of “little to