United States District Court, D. Maryland
Corina V. Hartman
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge.
December 19, 2016, Plaintiff Corina Hartman petitioned this
Court to review the Social Security Administration's
final decision to deny he claim for Disability Insurance
Benefits ("DIB"). [ECF No. 1]. I have considered
the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. [ECF
Nos. 16, 17]. 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.
Hartman's motion, grant the Commissioner's motion,
and affirm the Commissioner's judgment pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405. This letter explains
Hartman protectively filed her claim for DIB on July 22,
2011. (Tr. 272-78). She alleged a disability onset date of
February 16, 2009. Id. Her claim was denied
initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 154-58, 164-70). A
hearing was held on August 8, 2013, before an Administrative
Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 70-108). After the hearing,
the ALJ determined that Ms. Hartman was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant
time frame. (Tr. 131-48). The Appeals Council granted Ms.
Hartman's request for review and issued an order
remanding the case to an ALJ. (Tr. 149-53). On May 14, 2015,
a hearing was held before a new ALJ. (Tr. 30-67). On June 18,
2015, the ALJ denied Ms. Hartman's claim for DIB. (Tr.
8-29). The Appeals Council denied Ms. Hartman's request
for review, so the ALJ's 2015 decision constitutes the
final, reviewable decision of the Agency. (Tr. 1-6).
found that Ms. Hartman suffered from the severe impairment of
"degenerative disc disorder of the lumbar spine."
(Tr. 13). Despite this impairment, the ALJ determined that
Ms. Hartman retained the residual functional capacity
perform a range of light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b) involving lifting/carrying up to 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently (with a maximum of 5-10
pounds at a time per arm), standing up to 2/3 of a work day,
walking up to 2/3 of a work day, and sitting up to 2/3 of a
(Tr. 15). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert ("VE"), the ALJ determined that Ms. Hartman
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy, and that, therefore, she was not disabled.
Hartman's sole argument on appeal is that the ALJ
erroneously assessed her RFC by misinterpreting the
consultative examination opinion of Dr. Praveen Bolarum. [ECF
No. 16-1, 5-7]. Specifically, Ms. Hartman contends that Dr.
Bolarum did not find that she had the RFC to stand, sit, and
walk for two-thirds of a work day, which conflicts with the
ALJ's statement that she did. (Tr. 21); [ECF No. 16-1,
6]. Instead, Ms. Hartman argues that Dr. Bolarum, in finding
that she had "limitation in standing, sitting, and
walking occasionally, " clearly determined "not
that [she] was capable of standing, sitting, and walking up
to two-thirds of a work day each, but rather that [she] was
capable of standing, sitting, and walking less than one third
of a work day each." (Tr. 21); [ECF No. 16-1, 6]. The
Commissioner, meanwhile, contends that the ALJ properly
interpreted Dr. Bolarum's findings in concluding that Ms.
Hartman could stand, sit, and walk for two-thirds of a work
day. [ECF No. 17-1, 5-6].
gave Dr. Bolarum's January 10, 2015 consultative physical
examination of Ms. Hartman "great weight" because
it was "balance[d], objective, and generally consistent
with the medical evidence of record." (Tr. 21). Dr.
Bolarum concluded that Ms. Hartman has: "limitation in
standing occasionally in an 8 hour work day . . .
has limitation in sitting occasionally in an 8 hour
work day . . . [and] has limitation in walking
occasionally in an 8 hour work day." (Tr.
560)(emphasis added). Moreover, Dr. Bolarum's exam
included a "LIMITATIONS KEY, " which expressly
defined "Occasionally" as: 'Very little up to
1/3 total of an 8 hour work day." (Tr. 560). For
reference, the remaining limitations included in the key
were: (1) "Frequently, " defined as "1/3 to
2/3 total of an 8 hour work day;" and (2)
"Continuously, " defined as "more than 2/3 of
an 8 hour work day." (Tr. 560).
that there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's
conclusion that Ms. Hartman was capable of standing, walking,
and sitting up to two-thirds of a work day. (Tr. 15). Because
Ms. Hartman was limited in standing, sitting, and walking
"occasionally, " defined as "very little up to
1/3 total of an 8 hour work day, " by default, Dr.
Bolarum must have believed that she could stand, sit, and
walk for the remaining two-thirds of the work day. Indeed,
had Dr. Bolarum believed Ms. Hartman to be more severely
limited, he surely would have used either of the more
stringent two remaining terms, "frequently" or
"continuously, " to reflect as much or would have
stated that she is limited to standing, sitting, and walking
occasionally. Moreover, the ALJ's interpretation of Dr.
Bolarum's findings comports with the remainder of Dr.
Bolarum's report, which provided that Ms. Hartman: (1)
ambulated without difficulty; (2) could "get up and out
of the chair without difficulty;" (3) could "get on
and off the examination table without difficulty;" (4)
demonstrated a normal gait; (5) could walk on her heels; (6)
could squat to the floor; (7) could bend over and touch her
toes; (8) had 5/5 grip strength; and (9) had 5/5 motor
strength in all extremities. (Tr. 558-60). Finally, the
ALJ's interpretation comports with the objective medical
evidence of record, which demonstrates: (1) that Ms.
Hartman's treatment has been limited and conservative
with substantial gaps in treatment; (2) that her back
condition has never required surgery, steroidal injections,
or hospitalization; (3) that repeated physical exams failed
to reveal results consistent with the impairment alleged; (4)
that she has not complied with recommended treatment; (5) and
that her average daily activities "are not as limited as
one would expect, given the complaints of disabling symptoms
and limitations." (Tr. 19). As such, remand is not
warranted in this case.
reasons set forth above, Ms. Hartman's Motion for Summary
Judgment [ECF No. 16] is DENIED and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 17] is GRANTED. The Clerk is
directed to CLOSE this case.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as