United States District Court, D. Maryland
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
Ms. Castanuela and Counsel:
October 17, 2016, Plaintiff Ava Castanuela 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
Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment, in addition
to arguments made by Ms. Castanuela's former attorney at
the administrative hearing. [ECF No. 23]. 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.
§§ 4051(g), 1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater,
76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Under that standard, I will
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.
Castanuela filed a claim for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) on October 23, 2012, alleging a
disability onset date of July 1, 2007. (Tr. 202-03). Her
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr.
84-93, 95-105). A hearing, at which Ms. Castanuela was
represented by counsel, was held on February 19, 2015, before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 62-83).
Following that hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Castanuela was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 45-61). The
Appeals Council denied Ms. Castanuela's request for
review, (Tr. 1-4), so the ALJ's decision constitutes the
final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that, through her date last insured of December 31,
2012, Ms. Castanuela suffered from the severe impairments of
“affective disorder and anxiety disorder alternatively
described as bipolar, depression, and/or agoraphobia.”
(Tr. 50). Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that
Ms. Castanuela retained the residual functional capacity
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant
was further limited to simple, routine tasks that are not
performed at a production rate pace. She could have
occasional contact with the public, co-workers, and
supervisors. Additionally, she was limited to work with no
exposure to hazards such as moving mechanical parts or
(Tr. 52). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms.
Castanuela could not perform her past relevant work as a
budget analyst, but could perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 56-57).
Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms. Castanuela was not
disabled. (Tr. 57).
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). 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 Ms.
Castanuela's favor at step one, and determined that she
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity between her
alleged onset date and her date last insured. (Tr. 50);
see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
416.920(a)(4)(i). At step two, the ALJ then considered the
severity of each of the impairments that Ms. Castanuela
claimed prevented her from working. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The ALJ
determined that a series of Ms. Castanuela's physical
impairments were non-severe, because “they cause no
more than minimally vocationally relevant limitations”
and “were treated conservatively and entirely on an
outpatient basis.” (Tr. 50-51). However, after finding
at least one of Ms. Castanuela's mental impairments
severe, (Tr. 50), the ALJ continued with the sequential
evaluation and considered, in assessing Ms. Castanuela's
RFC, the extent to which her impairments limited her ability
three, the ALJ determined that Ms. Castanuela's
impairments did not meet the specific requirements of, or
medically equal the criteria of, any listings. (Tr. 51-52).
In particular, because Ms. Castanuela alleged mental
impairments, the ALJ applied the special technique for
evaluation of such claims, using a five-point scale to rate a
claimant's degree of limitation in the first three areas:
none, mild, moderate, marked, or extreme. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920a(c)(4). To satisfy paragraph B, a claimant must
exhibit either “marked” limitations in two of the
first three areas, or “marked” limitation in one
of the first three areas with repeated episodes of
decompensation. See, e.g., 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt.
P, App. 1 § 12.02. The ALJ determined that Ms.
Castanuela had only moderate restriction in activities of
daily living, social functioning, and concentration,
persistence, or pace, and no episodes of decompensation. (Tr.
51-52). Therefore, the mental health listings were not met.
The ALJ did not identify or evaluate any physical listings.
Under existing Fourth Circuit law, an ALJ only has to
identify a listing and compare the evidence to the listing
requirements where there is ample evidence to suggest that
the listing is met. See Huntington v. Apfel, 101
F.Supp.2d 384, 390 (D. Md. 2000) (citing Cook v.
Heckler, 783 F.2d 1168, 1172 (4th Cir. 1986)); see
also Ketcher v. Apfel, 68 F.Supp.2d 629, 645 (D. Md.
1999) (noting that the “duty of identification of
relevant listed impairments and comparison of symptoms to
Listing criteria is only triggered if there is ample evidence
in the record to support a determination that the
claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the listed
impairments”). I have carefully reviewed the record,
and I agree that no listings are met in this case.
considering Ms. Castanuela's RFC, the ALJ summarized her
subjective complaints from her hearing testimony and written
submissions. (Tr. 53). The ALJ then engaged in a detailed
review of her mental and physical medical records. (Tr.
54-55). The ALJ noted that the substantive mental health
documentation in the file “reflects that the
claimant's symptoms were treated on an entirely
conservative, routine, and outpatient basis.” (Tr. 54).
The treatment records in the file are from 2011-2012 (even
though the alleged onset date was in 2007) and reflect
relatively manageable symptoms and GAF scores indicating only
mild overall limitations. Id. The ALJ further noted
that Ms. Castanuela's RFC, in terms of her activities of
daily living, does not suggest an inability to maintain
employment. (Tr. 55). The ALJ afforded limited weight to
evidence pertaining to a possible transient ischemic attack
suffered by Ms. Castanuela in early 2013, since it post-dated
her date last insured. Id. Finally, the ALJ assigned
great weight to the opinions of the non-examining State
agency physicians, who opined that Ms. Castanuela would be
able to sustain “simple and routine tasks at a job site
away from others and the public's demands.”
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 Ms. Castanuela's position, I am not
permitted to reweigh the evidence or to substitute my own
judgment for that of the ALJ. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In considering the entire
record, and the evidence outlined above, I find that the ALJ
supported his conclusion with substantial evidence.
relying on the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that a
person with Ms. Castanuela's RFC would not be capable of
performing her past relevant work as a budget analyst, but
could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in
the national economy. (Tr. 56-57). Accordingly, I find that
the ALJ's determination must be affirmed.
reasons set forth herein, Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment, (ECF No. 23), is GRANTED. The Commissioner's
judgment is AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence four of 42 ...