United States District Court, D. Maryland
Mr. Bolton and Counsel:
September 11, 2016, Plaintiff Brandon Bolton petitioned this
Court to review the Social Security Administration’s
final decision to deny his claims. [ECF No. 1]. I have
considered the Commissioner’s Motion for Summary
Judgment, in addition to arguments made by Mr. Bolton’s
former attorney at the administrative hearing. [ECF No. 18]. 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
Bolton filed claims for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) in January, 2012, alleging a disability
onset date of April 1, 2007. (Tr. 257-69). His claims were
denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 74-97, 100-27).
After an initial hearing was postponed to allow Mr. Bolton to
seek counsel, (Tr. 64-73), a hearing, at which Mr. Bolton was
represented by counsel, was held on November 18, 2014, before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), (Tr. 35-63).
Following that hearing, the ALJ determined that Mr. Bolton
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 16-28). The Appeals
Council denied Mr. Bolton’s request for review, (Tr.
1-4), so the ALJ’s decision constitutes the final,
reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Mr. Bolton suffered from the severe impairments of
“seizure disorder; and status post traumatic brain
injury.” (Tr. 18). Despite these impairments, the ALJ
determined that Mr. Bolton retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and
416.967(c), except due to his seizure disorder, he can never
climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds, and he must avoid all
exposure to hazards, such as dangerous machinery and heights.
Additionally, he must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes,
odors, dusts and gases. Finally, the claimant can perform
only simple, routine and repetitive tasks that involve no
production rate for pace of work.
(Tr. 22). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr.
Bolton, who had no past relevant work, could perform jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr.
26-27). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr. Bolton was
not disabled. (Tr. 27).
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
proceeded in accordance with applicable law at all five steps
of the sequential evaluation. The ALJ ruled in Mr.
Bolton’s favor at step one, and determined that he had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged
onset date. (Tr. 18); 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
Mr. Bolton claimed prevented him from working. (Tr. 18-21);
see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii),
416.920(a)(4)(ii). The ALJ determined Mr. Bolton’s
headaches, hypertension, and asthma were non-severe. (Tr.
21). Nevertheless, in light of those medically determinable
impairments, the ALJ imposed a restriction limiting Mr.
Bolton’s exposure to fumes, odors, dusts and gases.
Id. After finding that other impairments were
severe, the ALJ continued with the sequential evaluation and
considered, in assessing Mr. Bolton’s RFC, the extent
to which his impairments limited his ability to work.
three, the ALJ determined that Mr. Bolton’s impairments
did not meet, or medically equal, the criteria of any
listings. (Tr. 21-22). Specifically, the ALJ noted that Mr.
Bolton’s seizures do not meet the frequency, severity,
or duration requirements of Listings 11.02 or 11.03.
Id. In addition, because Mr. Bolton 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
functional 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
Mr. Bolton had no limitation in activities of daily living or
social functioning, moderate limitation in concentration,
persistence, or pace, and no episodes of decompensation. (Tr.
21). The ALJ cited to evidence from the record, specifically
the evaluations of the State agency physicians, to support
those conclusions. Id. Therefore, the mental health
listings were not met. I have carefully reviewed the record,
and I agree that no listings are met in this case.
considering Mr. Bolton’s RFC, the ALJ summarized his
subjective complaints from his hearing testimony and his
written submissions. (Tr. 22-23). The ALJ then engaged in a
detailed review of Mr. Bolton’s mental and physical
medical records. (Tr. 23-26). The ALJ noted that the record
reflected few physical or mental limitations and no
restrictions in activity. (Tr. 26). The ALJ cited Mr.
Bolton’s extensive volunteer work teaching basketball
at a recreation center, his lack of mental health treatment
with a specialist, and his failure to follow up with a
neurologist regarding his seizures as evidence that his
symptoms were not disabling. Id. The ALJ also noted
that Mr. Bolton’s seizure disorder is described as
“stable” or “much better” in several
medical appointments, and that he denied experiencing
seizures during other appointments. (Tr. 25-26). Ultimately,
the ALJ concluded that Mr. Bolton’s testimony was not
credible, and that significant functional limitations were
not reflected in the medical evidence of record. (Tr. 26).
Finally, the ALJ adopted the opinions of the non-examining
State agency psychiatrists and assigned “significant
weight” to the assessment of State agency physician Dr.
Hakkarinien, although the ALJ imposed a more significant
restriction with respect to exposure to hazards. (Tr. 21, 24,
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. Bolton’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). After 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 Mr. Bolton’s RFC could perform jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr.
27). Accordingly, I find that the ALJ’s determination
must be affirmed.
reasons set forth herein, Defendant’s Motion for
Summary Judgment, [ECF No. 18], is GRANTED. The
Commissioner’s judgment is AFFIRMED pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Clerk is
directed to CLOSE this case.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as