United States District Court, D. Maryland
Lawrence P. Demuth, Esq. Theodore Anthony Melanson, Esq.
Mignini, Raab & Demuth, LLP
Rigney, Esq. Social Security Administration
P. GESNER CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
before this court, by the parties' consent (ECF Nos. 7,
8), are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment
(“Plaintiff's Motion”) (ECF No. 22),
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
(“Defendant's Motion”) (ECF No. 24),
Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 25), and Defendant's Reply to
Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 30). The undersigned must uphold
the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by
substantial evidence and if proper legal standards were
employed. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3);
Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996),
superseded by statute, 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(d)(2). I have reviewed the pleadings and the record
in this case and find that no hearing is necessary. Loc. R.
105.6. For the reasons noted below, plaintiff's motion
(ECF Nos. 22, 25) and defendant's motion (ECF No. 24, 30)
are denied, the Commissioner's decision is reversed, and
the case is remanded to the Commissioner for further
consideration in accordance with this opinion.
March 8, 2011, plaintiff filed a Title II application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits. (R.
at 125-28, 119-24.) On March 31, 2011, plaintiff also filed a
Title XVI application for supplemental security income.
(Id.) In both applications, plaintiff alleged
disability beginning on June 1, 2009. (R. at 119-28, 138.)
His claims were initially denied on May 6, 2011 (R. at
20-41), and on reconsideration on February 6, 2013. (R. at
42-48.) After a hearing held on January 27, 2015, an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a
decision on February 13, 2015 denying benefits based on a
determination that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on
June 7, 2016 making the ALJ's opinion the final and
reviewable decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at
5-8.) Plaintiff challenges the Commissioner's decision on
the grounds that: (1) the ALJ's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) determination was not supported
by substantial evidence, and (2) the ALJ's determination
that plaintiff's impairment was not severe enough to meet
or medically equal any listed impairment was not supported by
substantial evidence. (ECF No. 22 at 9-20, 20-26.)
plaintiff argues that the ALJ's assessment of
plaintiff's RFC was not supported by substantial
evidence. In particular, plaintiff alleges that (1) the ALJ
afforded little weight to plaintiff's treating physician
without properly explaining why and (2) the ALJ, in light of
Lewis v. Berryhill, applied an improper legal
standard to discredit plaintiff's subjective symptoms and
credibility. (ECF No. 22 at 10-17 and ECF No. 25 at 2-11);
Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858
(4th Cir. 2017). The ALJ must generally give more
weight to a treating physician's opinion. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(d)(2), 416.927(d)(2). Where a treating
physician's opinion is not supported by clinical evidence
or is inconsistent with other substantial evidence, however,
the ALJ should afford it significantly less weight.
Id.; Lewis, 858 F.3d at 867. If the ALJ
does not give a treating source's opinion controlling
weight, the ALJ must assign weight after considering several
factors, including the length and nature of the treatment
relationship, the degree to which the physician's opinion
is supported by the record as a whole, and any other factors
that support or contradict the opinion. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(c)(1)-(6), 416.927(c)(1)-(6). Moreover,
the ALJ is never required to give controlling weight to a
treating physician's opinion on the ultimate issue of
disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(e); 416.927(e).
treating physician, Dr. Joseph, treated plaintiff from 2013
through 2015. (R. at 235, 240, 256-78.) Over the course of
his treatment, Dr. Joseph assessed that plaintiff was limited
to less than a full range of sedentary work due to chronic
back pain. Id. The ALJ afforded this opinion
significantly less weight because it was inconsistent with
other substantial evidence. (R. at 16-17.) Specifically, the
ALJ discussed two other medical opinions which were
inconsistent with Dr. Joseph's opinion. Id.
First, the ALJ discussed the medical records from Dr.
Quainoo, a consultative examiner, who found that plaintiff
had good lumbar flexion, had sufficient grip strength, normal
range of motion of all joints and a normal gait, and that the
plaintiff did not use an ambulatory device as of the
examination date in January of 2013. (R. at 237-39.) Dr.
Quianoo concluded that though the plaintiff had chronic back
pain, there was “no evidence of gross functional
impairment.” Id. Second, the ALJ discussed the
medical records from Dr. Reddy, a second consultative
examiner, who found that plaintiff had full strength in his
upper and lower extremities with slight back pain when
raising his legs as of the examination date in October of
2014. (R. at 243-44.) Additionally, Dr. Reddy observed
plaintiff being able to walk, normally dress/undress, bend,
and not require an ambulatory device. Id. Neither
consultative examiner concluded that the back pain rose to
the level of functionally impairing the claimant. To the
contrary, their records discuss plaintiff's ability to
engage in normal physical tasks without difficulty and
mention back pain as being present, but not as severely
limiting. (R. at 235-244.)
affording plaintiff's treating physician's opinion
significantly less weight, the ALJ discussed a variety of the
necessary factors, including the examining relationship,
supportability, and the consistency of the opinion with the
record as a whole. The ALJ need not mechanically discuss
every factor when choosing to afford a treating physicians
opinion less weight. See Baxter v. Astrue, 2012 WL
32567, at *6 (D. Md. Jan. 4, 2012). In Lewis, the
Fourth Circuit noted that the ALJ is “required to give
‘controlling weight' to opinions proffered by a
claimant's treating physician so long as the opinion . .
. is not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the
case record.” Lewis, 858 F.3d at 867. Here,
the opinion of the claimant's treating physician was
inconsistent with two consultative examiners. The ALJ
properly considered the necessary factors and evaluated the
evidence as a whole before rendering his decision to afford
little weight to Dr. Joseph's opinion. See Ward v.
Berryhill, No. ADC-16-3443, 2017 WL 4838749 (D. Md. Oct.
24, 2017) (finding ALJ appropriately declined to give
controlling weight to treating physician's opinions where
two non-treating medical experts' opinions contradicted
them). Accordingly, because the ALJ's decision was
supported by “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion,
” this court finds the ALJ's determination to
afford less weight to Dr. Joseph's opinion to be
supported by substantial evidence. Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
respect to plaintiff's challenge of the ALJ's
analysis of plaintiff's credibility and subjective
symptoms, plaintiff relies on the Fourth Circuit's recent
holding in Lewis. “‘In determining the
credibility of the individual's statements, the
adjudicator must consider the entire case record, including
the objective medical evidence, the individual's own
statements about symptoms, statements and other information
provided by treating or examining physicians ... and any
other relevant evidence in the case record.' SSR 96-7P,
1996 WL 374186, at *1 (S.S.A. July 2, 1996). An ALJ, however,
cannot rely exclusively on objective evidence to undermine a
claimant's subjective assertions of disabling
pain.” Hinton v. Berryhill, No. MJG-16-4043,
2017 WL 4404441, at *3 (D. Md. Oct. 4, 2017) (citing
Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 866 (4th Cir.
2017) (holding that the ALJ improperly discounted the
claimant's subjective complaints “based solely on
the lack of objective evidence” supporting the
the ALJ found that plaintiff's medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause his alleged
symptoms, yet determined that plaintiff's
“statements concerning the intensity, persistence and
limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely