United States District Court, D. Maryland
STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
September 29, 2016, Plaintiff Deborah Ann Schmidt petitioned
this Court to review the Social Security Administration's
final decision to deny her claims for Disability Insurance
Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. (ECF No. 1). I
have considered the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment, and the related filings. (ECF Nos. 17, 25, 28, 29).
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 will deny Ms. Schmidt's motion, grant the
Commissioner's motion, and affirm the Commissioner's
judgment pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). This letter explains my rationale.
Schmidt protectively filed her claims for benefits on August
15, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of July 26, 2012.
(Tr. 185-95). Her claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration. (Tr. 130-37, 139-42). A hearing was held on
October 22, 2014, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 48-91). Following the hearing, the
ALJ determined that Ms. Schmidt was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time
frame. (Tr. 25-47). The Appeals Council (“AC”)
denied Ms. Schmidt's request for review, (Tr. 1-7), so
the ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable
decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Schmidt suffered from the severe impairments
of “degenerative disc disease, status-post left knee
surgery, left ankle tendinitis and cyst, and obesity.”
(Tr. 30). Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that
Ms. Schmidt retained the residual functional capacity
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except she can do work that occasionally requires
balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and
climbing (except she never requires the use of ladders, ropes
and scaffolds). She can also do work that has a sit/stand
option that allows her to sit or stand alternately, at 15
minutes [sic] intervals provided she remains on task
while in either position during the work period. She should
avoid all hazards.
(Tr. 33-34). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms.
Schmidt could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in
the national economy and that, therefore, she was not
disabled. (Tr. 39-40).
makes one primary argument on appeal: that the ALJ did not
provide a sufficient explanation for the assignment of
“little weight” to the opinion of her treating
physician, Dr. Julio Menocal. See, generally, Pl. Mot.
11-14. That argument lacks merit.
provided a detailed summary of the medical records from Ms.
Schmidt's visits with Dr. Menocal and other treating
sources. (Tr. 35-36). The ALJ then addressed Dr.
Menocal's opinion as follows:
As for the opinion evidence, I assign little weight to the
February of 2013 findings of Dr. Menocal who limited the
claimant to less than sedentary exertion with 50% ability to
use hands fingers and arms on the right, the need to take
breaks every hour for 15 minutes, and the need to be absent
from work more than 4x per month, due to chronic migraines,
dizziness/fatigue, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Records show
that Dr. Menocal's own treatment records more often than
not show normal physical examination and do not substantiate
the need to have such significant manipulative limitations,
the need for breaks, and the need to be absent from work.
Likewise, the claimant's MR [sic] indicates
protrusion but no spinal canal stenosis, with successful left
knee surgery. She also testified that she could perform light
work with a sit/stand option.
(Tr. 38-39) (citation omitted). Ms. Schmidt contends that the
ALJ's reasons for discounting Dr. Menocal's opinion
are both vague and contradicted by the evidence of record.
Pl. Mot. 11-13. The record in this case does contain evidence
both supporting and, as cited by the ALJ, undermining the
notion that Ms. Schmidt is disabled. 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 this case, the ALJ specifically referenced not only
Dr. Menocal's own treatment records, but also referred to
Ms. Schmidt's testimony that she would be capable of
performing a representative light job with a sit/stand
option. (Tr. 80); see also (Tr. 79) (testimony that
she believed she could have performed sedentary work before
her 50th birthday). Moreover, the ALJ did not
inaccurately portray Dr. Menocal's treatment records by
suggesting that they “more often than not” had
largely normal findings. The ALJ also referred to two
specific facts, namely the MRI results and the successful
knee surgery, that he believed to corroborate his
conclusions. (Tr. 39). Although Ms. Schmidt cites to other
evidence in attempting to undermine those facts, again, her
contentions amount to a request that this Court reweigh the
evidence as considered by the ALJ. Finally, in other sections
of the opinion, the ALJ provided further analysis that
informs the evaluation of Dr. Menocal's opinion; for
example, the statement that medical records show that Ms.
Schmidt only experiences migraine headaches about once per
year and that she had them previously while working without
limitations. (Tr. 31). In light of the substantial evidence
to support the ALJ's conclusion, and the prohibition
against reweighing the evidence he considered, his opinion
must be affirmed.
reasons set forth herein, Ms. Schmidt's Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17) is DENIED and Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 28) is GRANTED. The
Commissioner's judgment is AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Clerk is directed to
CLOSE this case.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as