United States District Court, D. Maryland
Gloria E. Martinez
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
November 14, 2016, Plaintiff Gloria E. Martinez petitioned
this Court to review the Social Security Administration's
final decision to deny her claim for Disability Insurance
Benefits. [ECF No. 1]. I have considered the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment. [ECF Nos. 15, 16]. 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); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589
(4th Cir. 1996). Under that standard, I will 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). This letter
explains my rationale.
Martinez filed a claim for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) on August 2, 2012, alleging a disability
onset date of July 1, 2011. (Tr. 170-73). Her claim
was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 67-74,
76-86). A hearing was held on February 18, 2015, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 33-66).
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms. Martinez
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 11-32). The Appeals
Council (“AC”) denied Ms. Martinez's request
for further review, (Tr. 1-8), so the ALJ's decision
constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Martinez suffered from the severe impairments
of “multi-level lumbosacral disc disease with
desiccation and small disc protrusion; mild multilevel
cervical disc disease.” (Tr. 16). Despite these
impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms. Martinez would
retain the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
she can occasionally bilaterally both push and occasionally
pull and operate foot controls, occasionally stoop, kneel,
and crouch, never limb [sic] ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and
never crawl. The claimant can frequently bilaterally reach
and can reach overhead bilaterally occasionally. She can
frequently bilaterally finger and feel. The claimant should
avoid exposure to workplace hazards being unprotected
machinery and unprotected heights, but can operate a motor
(Tr. 19). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms.
Martinez could perform several jobs existing in the national
economy, and, therefore, was not disabled. (Tr. 24-26).
Martinez raises three arguments on appeal: (1) that the ALJ
erroneously performed her RFC assessment; (2) that the ALJ
failed to properly evaluate the opinion of consultative
examiner, Dr. Ajit Kurup; and (3) that the ALJ failed to
properly evaluate the opinion of consultative examiner, Dr.
Memunatu Bangura. I agree that the ALJ failed to properly
evaluate the opinion of Dr. Kurup, and I therefore remand the
case. In remanding for additional explanation, I express no
opinion as to whether the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that
Ms. Martinez is not entitled to benefits is correct.
with the successful argument, Ms. Martinez argues that the
ALJ failed to properly evaluate the medical opinion of the
consultative examiner, Dr. Kurup. Pl. Mot. 6. Specifically,
Ms. Martinez contends that the ALJ failed to “evaluate
[Dr. Kurup's opinion] in any manner, and failed to
explain her implicit rejection of Dr. Kurup's opinions
that the Plaintiff was only able to stand and walk for 45 to
60 minutes, and was unable to stoop.” Id.
Although implicit assignments of weight can support
meaningful review, Thomas v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.,
No. Civ. WDQ-10-3070, 2012 WL 670522, at *7 (D. Md. Feb. 27,
2012) (citation omitted), the ALJ must adequately indicate
the weight assigned to medical records through her evaluation
of the relevant evidence. See Gordon v. Schweiker,
725 F.2d 231, 235-36 (4th Cir. 1984) (“We cannot
determine if findings are unsupported by substantial evidence
unless the Secretary explicitly indicates the weight given to
all of the relevant evidence.”); see also King v.
Califano, 615 F.2d 1018, 1020 (4th Cir. 1980)
(“Even if legitimate reasons exist for rejecting or
discounting certain evidence, the Secretary cannot do so for
no reason or for the wrong reason.”). Thus, an
ALJ's failure to identify “the reasons for
discounting the [medical] opinions” and to explain
“precisely how those reasons affected the weight given
denotes a lack of substantial evidence, even where the
conclusion of the ALJ may be justified based upon the
record.” Valley v. Astrue, No.
3:11-CV-260-HEH, 2012 WL 3257861, at *17 (E.D. Va. June 22,
2012), report and recommendation adopted, No. 3:11CV260-HEH,
2012 WL 3257876 (E.D. Va. Aug. 8, 2012) (internal citation
and quotation marks omitted).
the ALJ failed to adequately indicate the weight assigned to
Dr. Kurup's medical opinion. The ALJ noted that Dr. Kurup
“estimated [that the claimant had] the capacity for
lifting 20-30 pounds of weight, sitting for prolonged periods
of time, and standing and walking for 45-60 minutes without
use of an assistive device.” (Tr. 23); see
also (Tr. 373). Moreover, the ALJ noted that
“[t]he claimant was unable to run or stoop or crawl but
had no difficulty with use of bilateral upper extremities for
activates [sic] that required gripping and grasping.”
(Tr. 23); see also (Tr. 372-74). The ALJ
additionally noted that Dr. Rudin, a Disability Determination
Services (“DDS”) physician, “found Dr.
Kurup's normal consultative examination findings more
persuasive” in making his Disability Determination
Explanation. (Tr. 23); see also (Tr. 83-86). The ALJ
provided no other evidence to support an implicit assignment
of weight to Dr. Kurup's conclusion. Most notably, the
ALJ failed to explain why she rejected Dr. Kurup's
evaluation that Ms. Martinez could only “walk for
45-60 minutes without use of an assistive device, ”
which stood in stark contrast with Dr. Rudin's assessment
that Ms. Martinez could “walk with normal breaks for a
total of about six hours in an eight hour day with no
limitations.” (Tr. 23); see also (Tr. 83,
373). The ALJ also failed to cite to any evidence in the
record that was inconsistent with or otherwise undermined Dr.
Kurup's conclusion. Cf. Shaffer v. Comm'r, Soc.
Sec., Civil No. SAG-10-1962, 2012 WL 707098, at *2 (D.
Md. March 2, 2012) (holding that the ALJ's failure to
assign weight to a physician's medical opinion did not
require remand when the ALJ's ultimate conclusion was
consistent with the physician's diagnoses); Longshore
v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., Civil No. SAG-16-223,
2017 WL 384283, at *3 (D. Md. Jan. 25, 2017) (holding that
the ALJ's failure to assign weight to two physicians'
medical opinions did not require remand when the
physicians' opinions did not contradict the ALJ's
ultimate conclusion). In light of the evidence of record, the
ALJ failed to provide a sufficient explanation for
disregarding Dr. Kurup's examination. Remand is therefore
to the less persuasive arguments, Ms. Martinez argues that
the ALJ also failed to properly evaluate the medical opinion
of the consultative examiner, Dr. Bangura. Specifically, she
contends that the ALJ “failed to evaluate Dr.
Bangura's finding that [Ms. Martinez's] diagnosis was
Major Depressive Disorder, recurrent, moderate.” Pl.
Mot. 7. As previously recognized, there is no requirement
that each practitioner's opinion be explicitly addressed,
where implicit assignments of weight can provide an
opportunity for meaningful review. See Shaffer, 2012
WL 707098, at *2. Here, it is clear that the ALJ considered
and evaluated Dr. Bangura's opinion in great detail.
Notably, the ALJ noted that “Dr. Bangura's
examination findings in the claimant's functional reports
indicate that the claimant is not as significantly limited as
the GAF of 60 would suggest and are granted more
significant weight than the GAF scores.” (Tr. 17
n.1) (emphasis added). The ALJ also opined that Dr.
Bangura's consultative examination report revealed that
Ms. Martinez's diagnosis of major depressive disorder
caused no limitations in daily activities, no limitations in
social functioning, and no more than mild limitations in
concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 17-18).
Accordingly, I find that the ALJ properly evaluated Dr.
Bangura's opinion, and remand is not warranted on this
Ms. Martinez contends that the ALJ erroneously performed her
RFC assessment by “fail[ing] to set forth a narrative
discussion describing how the evidence supported each
conclusion.” Pl. Mot. 5-6. Specifically, she contends
that the ALJ “provided no explanation to support her
findings that the Plaintiff could occasionally bilaterally
push and pull, and operate foot controls, could frequently
bilaterally reach, finger, and feel, could occasionally reach
overhead bilaterally, and needed to avoid exposure to
workplace hazards.” Id. at 6. Social Security
regulations require an ALJ to include “a narrative
discussion of [the] claimant's symptoms and medical
source opinions.” Bell v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., Civil No. SAG-16-1351, 2017 WL 2416906, at *3
(D. Md. June 2, 2017) (citation omitted). In doing so, an ALJ
must “build an accurate and logical bridge from the
evidence to [her] conclusion.” Dolinger v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., Civil No. SAG-16-219, 2017
WL 1078450, at *3 (D. Md. March 22, 2017) (quoting
Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir.
2000), as amended (Dec. 13, 2000)). Here, the ALJ provided
“an accurate and logical bridge” between Ms.
Martinez's limitations and the RFC determination. Most
significantly, in formulating the RFC assessment, the ALJ
noted that Ms. Martinez “had been cleaning houses when
she presented with shoulder complaints in June 2013, and she
admits that she retains the capacity to operate a motor
vehicle.” (Tr. 24). Moreover, the ALJ incorporated
additional limitations based on Dr. Hassan's consultative
examination report and objective clinical evidence, which
revealed “more significant limitations in reaching and
crawling” due to a rotator cuff tear. Id.
Accordingly, I find that the ALJ properly set forth a
narrative discussion supporting her RFC assessment, and
remand is not warranted on this basis.
reasons set forth above, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment, (ECF No. 15), is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 16), is DENIED. Pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the
Commissioner's judgment is REVERSED IN PART due to
inadequate analysis. The case is REMANDED for further
proceedings in accordance with this opinion. The Clerk is
directed to CLOSE this case.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as