United States District Court, D. Maryland
James Anderson, Jr.
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
LETTER TO COUNSEL
STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
January 19, 2017, Plaintiff James Anderson, Jr. petitioned
this Court to review the Social Security Administration's
final decision to deny his claim for Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”). [ECF No. 1]. I have considered
the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment [ECF Nos.
15, 18], and 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 Mr.
Anderson'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
Anderson protectively filed his claim for SSI on May 23,
2013, alleging a disability onset date of April 19, 2013.
(Tr. 139-48). His claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration. (Tr. 54-72). A hearing was held on June 15,
2015, before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
(Tr. 29-53). Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that
Mr. Anderson was not disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr.
11-28). The Appeals Council denied Mr. Anderson's request
for review, (Tr. 1-3), so the ALJ's 2015 decision
constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Mr. Anderson suffered from the severe impairments
of “status post fractured cervical spine; status post
cervical surgery; cervical stenosis; and radiculopathy
involving the right upper extremity.” (Tr. 16). Despite
these impairments, the ALJ determined that Mr. Anderson
retained the residual functional capacity
to lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently . . .
[to] stand for 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday, walk for 6
hours out of an 8-hour workday and sit for 6 hours out of an
8-hour workday . . . [to] perform light work as defined in 20
CFR § 416.967(b). Except that he is limited to
frequently stooping or crouching; occasionally reaching in
all directions including overhead on the right side; and
occasionally pushing and pulling on the right side.
(Tr. 18). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr.
Anderson could perform jobs existing in significant numbers
in the national economy, and that, therefore, he was not
disabled. (Tr. 23-24).
Anderson raises two arguments on appeal: (1) that the ALJ
failed to apply the proper legal standard in discrediting his
credibility and subjective evidence of pain; and (2) that the
ALJ erroneously assessed his RFC. [ECF No. 15-1 at 3-8].
These arguments are addressed, in turn, below.
The ALJ's Credibility Finding
Anderson argues that the ALJ, in finding him “not fully
credible, ” (Tr. 19), erred by “fail[ing] to
provide any assessment of which of [his] statements he [sic]
found to be credible, and which she did not.” [ECF No.
15-1 at 3]. Specifically, Mr. Anderson relies on Hammond
v. Hecker, 765 F.2d 424, 426 (4th Cir. 1985); Lewis
v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 866 (4th Cir. 2017); and
Bostrom v. Colvin, 134 F.Supp.3d 952, 960 (D. Md.
2016), which require the ALJ to “refer specifically to
the evidence informing the ALJ's conclusion” in
making a credibility determination and to “articulate
which of a claimant's individual statements are credible,
rather than” analyzing whether a claimant is credible
“as a general matter.” [ECF No. 15-1 at 3-5].
background, in Lewis, the United States Court of
Appeals for the Fourth Circuit determined that remand was
required, in part, because “[t]he ALJ's decision
applied an improper legal standard to discredit [the
claimant's] [credibility].” 858 F.3d at 870.
Specifically, the Fourth Circuit held that the ALJ improperly
discounted the claimant's subjective complaints
“based solely on the lack of objective evidence”
supporting the claimant's assertions. Id. at
866. Social Security regulations do not permit an ALJ to
“reject [a claimant's] statements about the
intensity and persistence of  pain or other symptoms or
about the effect [those] symptoms have on [a claimant's]
ability to work solely because the available
objective medical evidence does not substantiate [his or her]
statements.” Id. (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1529(c)(2), 416.929(c)(2)) (emphasis added);
see SSR 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186, at *1 (“An
individual's statements about the intensity and
persistence of pain or other symptoms or about the effect the
symptoms have on his or her ability to work may not be
disregarded solely because they are not substantiated by
objective medical evidence.”). Rather, the Fourth
Circuit emphasized that the ALJ failed to “explain in
his decision what statements by [the claimant] undercut [the]
subjective evidence . . . as limiting [the claimant's]
functional capacity.” Lewis, 858 F.3d at 866.
Accordingly, the Lewis Court remanded because the
ALJ failed to cite sufficient evidence of the claimant's
own statements to discredit her credibility. Likewise, Mr.
Anderson contends that the ALJ “failed to identify the
statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and
limiting effects of [his] symptoms which she found to be not
entirely credible, and failed to explain how she decided
which of [his] statements to believe and which to
discredit.” [ECF No. 15-1 at 5].
Commissioner, meanwhile, contends that, pursuant to SSR
96-7p, the ALJ properly evaluated Mr. Anderson's
credibility. [ECF No. 18-1, 4-7]. In effect at the time of
the ALJ's decision, SSR 96-7p provides that, in assessing
a claimant's credibility, “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 or psychologists and other
persons about the symptoms and how they affect the
individual, and any other relevant evidence in the case
record.” SSR 96-7P, 1996 WL 374186 at *1. Defendant
argues that the ALJ complied with this standard by citing:
(1) the objective medical evidence, which “fail[ed] to
provide strong support for [his] allegations;” and (2)
Mr. Anderson's testimony regarding his allegations of
pain, his reported daily activities, his statements to
medical sources, and his poor work history. [ECF No. 18-1 at
disagree that the ALJ erred in finding that Mr. Anderson was
“not fully credible.” (Tr. 19). The scope of the
Lewis ruling need not be determined in the instant
case because the ALJ, in discounting Mr. Anderson's
credibility, expressly cited sufficient evidence of his own
statements that were inconsistent with his allegations of
symptoms. For example, the ALJ noted that Mr. Anderson, in an
August, 2013 consultative examination for his alleged
impairments, admitted that he “attempted to work out
and lift weights.” (Tr. 19, 279). Further, the ALJ
noted Mr. Anderson's admission that he “has no
problems” with personal care tasks and will “do
laundry; iron clothes; drive; travel; by walking and using
public transportation; pay bills; count change; handle a
savings account; use a checkbook; attend church; complete
tasks; and pay attention ‘pretty good.'” (Tr.
19). Thus, the ALJ adequately “explain[ed] in [her]
decision what statements by [Mr. Anderson] undercut [the]
subjective evidence . . . as limiting [his] functional
capacity.” See Lewis, 858 F.3d at 866.
Moreover, the ALJ provided substantial objective record
evidence to support her conclusion. See (Tr. 18-22);
see also SSR 96-7p, at *6 (noting that “the
absence of objective medical evidence supporting an
individual's statements about the intensity and
persistence of pain or other symptoms is  one factor that
the adjudicator must consider in assessing an
individual's credibility.”); see Hines v.
Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 565 n.3 (4th Cir. 2006)
(citation omitted). Accordingly, the ALJ, by considering Mr.
Anderson's “objective medical evidence, . . . daily
activities, efforts to work . . . [and subjective]
description[s] of pain, ” properly assessed his
credibility. See Bostic v. Astrue, 474 Fed.Appx.
952, 954 (4th Cir. 2012). Remand on this basis is therefore
Residual Functional Capacity ...