United States District Court, D. Maryland
JOSEPH MCFADDEN, SR.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY
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. 13), and to make recommendations
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule
301.5(b)(ix). Plaintiff Joseph McFadden, Sr., 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 asking for a hearing. [ECF No.
15]. I advised Mr. McFadden, by letter, that no hearing would
be held due to the nature of the appellate proceeding, and
that he should submit any medical records or argument in
writing. [ECF No. 16]. However, he filed nothing further. 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. §
McFadden filed claims for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) in late 2012, alleging a disability onset
date of July 10, 2010. (Tr. 204-15). His claims were denied
initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 107-14, 117-20). A
hearing, at which Mr. McFadden was represented by counsel,
was held on September 29, 2015, before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 31-66). Following the
hearing, the ALJ determined that Mr. McFadden was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during
the relevant time frame. (Tr. 15-26). The Appeals Council
denied Mr. McFadden's request for review, (Tr. 1-6), so
the ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable
decision of the Agency.
found that Mr. McFadden suffered from the severe impairments
of “degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
hypertension, and iron deficiency anemia.” (Tr. 17).
Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Mr.
McFadden retained the residual functional capacity
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except, the claimant could occasionally climb
ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
He could never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. The
claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold,
extreme heat, excessive vibration, hazardous moving machinery
and unprotected heights.
(Tr. 19). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr.
McFadden could perform his past relevant work as a document
preparer and that, therefore, he was not disabled. (Tr.
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. McFadden's prior attorney
in his representative brief dated September 25, 2015. (Tr.
290-310). 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.
McFadden's favor at step one and determined that he has
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged
onset date. (Tr. 17); 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. McFadden claimed
prevented him from working. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii). Notably, the ALJ found Mr. McFadden's
hyperlipidemia, arterial calcifications, hernia, colon polyp
and diverticulitis, sinusitis, and kidney stones to be
non-severe. (Tr. 18-19). However, after finding at least one
of Mr. McFadden's impairments severe, id., the
ALJ continued with the sequential evaluation and considered,
in assessing Mr. McFadden's RFC, the extent to which his
impairments limited his ability to work.
three, the ALJ determined that Mr. McFadden's severe
impairments did not meet the specific requirements of, or
medically equal the criteria of, any listings. (Tr. 19). In
particular, the ALJ considered the specific requirements of
Listing 1.04 (degenerative disc disease), 4.00
(hypertension), and 7.05 (anemia). See 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404, Subpt. P, App. 1, §§ 1.04, 4.00, 7.05. The ALJ
made reference to the specific criteria for each listing that
Mr. McFadden did not meet or equal. (Tr. 19). During the
administrative proceedings. Mr. McFadden's then-counsel
argued that Mr. McFadden met the criteria of Listing 1.04,
based on findings during the examinations of Drs. Weng and
Nasseri. (Tr. 290-91). However, the ALJ specifically
addressed those examinations and noted that, during the
examination of Dr. Weng, there was “no motor loss in
the arms or hands and  no sensory loss.” (Tr. 21).
The ALJ also noted the lack of “imaging in the evidence
of record of nerve root or spinal cord impingement to support
a belief that the claimant has radiculopathy.”
Id. Contrary to the assertion of Mr. McFadden's
then-attorney that Dr. Nasseri's findings corroborated
those of Dr. Weng, the ALJ noted that, at the examination by
Dr. Nasseri, Mr. McFadden had normal range of motion in the
cervical spine, full strength in his lower extremities, and
an ability to ambulate without assistive devices.
Id. Accordingly, the ALJ adequately considered the
potentially applicable listings and determined that the
listings were not met or equaled.
considering Mr. McFadden's RFC, the ALJ summarized his
subjective complaints from his hearing testimony. (Tr. 20).
The ALJ next made an adverse credibility assessment, relying
on (1) the fact that Mr. McFadden uses only over-the-counter
medication to manage his pain; (2) the fact that the record
reflects non-compliance with treatment; (3) the fact that Mr.
McFadden has used conservative methods to treat his back
pain; and (4) the fact that Mr. McFadden has made
inconsistent statements about the reasons he stopped working
at the Census Bureau. (Tr. 20-21). The ALJ then engaged in a
detailed review of Mr. McFadden's medical records and
objective testing. (Tr. 21-23). The ALJ noted that several
appointments regarding back pain involved normal examinations
or only mild findings on objective testing. (Tr. 21). The ALJ
also addressed several lengthy gaps in treatment, without
evidence that Mr. McFadden had sought no-cost treatment
options during those windows. Id. With respect to
blood pressure, the ALJ reviewed the medical records and
determined that Mr. McFadden had been non-compliant in taking
his medication, but had not sustained end organ damage. (Tr.
22). Finally, regarding iron deficiency anemia, the ALJ noted
that, while Mr. McFadden had not been compliant in taking the
prescribed dosage of iron pills on a consistent basis, his
“hemoglobin and hematocrit levels are close to normal
limits when taking medication.” (Tr. 23).
the ALJ assessed the treatment notes and opinions from Mr.
McFadden's treating physicians, Drs. Lee, Weng, and
Nasseri, and the non-examining State agency medical
consultants. (Tr. 23-25). The ALJ assigned only partial
weight to the opinion of one State agency physician, Dr.
Bancoff, who determined that Mr. McFadden could perform
medium work. (Tr. 23). The ALJ concluded that Mr.
McFadden's medical records reflected a higher degree of
impairment. Id. The ALJ gave “great
weight” to the opinion of the other State agency
physician, Dr. Hakkarinen, who opined that Mr. McFadden would
be capable of light work. (Tr. 23-24).
respect to the treating doctors, the ALJ assigned
“partial weight” to the opinion of Dr. Lee, who
opined that Mr. McFadden could work, but would be limited to
lifting no more than five pounds at any time. (Tr. 24).
Citing the medical records, the ALJ reasoned that “the
claimant is not as limited as Dr. Lee opines.”
Id. The ALJ gave “little weight” to the
opinions of Drs. Weng and Nasseri. Id. With respect
to Dr. Weng, the ALJ noted that both doctors had examined Mr.
McFadden on only a single occasion, did not have the
opportunity to review all of the evidence in the record, and
rendered opinions inconsistent with specific record evidence.
on this evidence, the ALJ found that Mr. McFadden was able to
perform the work described in his RFC. (Tr. 19). Ultimately,
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. McFadden'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
the ALJ determined that Mr. McFadden had past relevant work
as a police officer and as a Document Preparer. (Tr. 25-26).
Although the ALJ concluded that Mr. McFadden would be unable
to work as a police officer, he found that Mr. McFadden's
RFC would allow him to perform his past relevant work as a
Document Preparer, as actually and generally performed. (Tr.
26). Mr. McFadden's prior counsel argued that he should
be found to meet Grid Rule 201.06, because he is only capable
of sedentary work and not light work as determined by the
ALJ. (Tr. 291). However, whether or not the ALJ properly
found Mr. McFadden to be capable of a restricted range of
light work, the ALJ relied upon the VE testimony to determine
that Mr. McFadden could engage in his past relevant work as a
Document Preparer, which is performed at the sedentary
exertional level. (Tr. 25-26). ...