United States District Court, D. Maryland
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
to Standing Order 2014-01, the above-referenced case has been
referred to me for review of the Commissioner's
dispositive motion, [ECF No. 15], and to make recommendations
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule
301.5(b)(ix). The Plaintiff Jatia Nicole Carroll, who
proceeds pro se, filed a letter regarding her case
in November, 2017, but did not file a response to the
Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. I have considered
Ms. Carroll's letter and the Commissioner's Motion.
[ECF Nos. 14, 15]. 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 recommend that the Court
grant the Commissioner's motion and affirm the
Commissioner's judgment pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
Carroll filed claims for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) on March 14, 2013, and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) on August 28, 2013,
alleging a disability onset date of November 14, 2010. (Tr.
225-35). Her claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration. (Tr. 111-37, 141-44). A hearing, at which
Ms. Carroll was represented by counsel, was held on August
13, 2015, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 39-69). At that proceeding, the ALJ
decided to hold open the record to obtain additional medical
records and to order a psychiatric consultative examination.
(Tr. 66-68). After those items were procured, on April 6,
2016, a second hearing was held before a new ALJ, since the
original ALJ had then left the office. (Tr. 70-110). Ms.
Carroll was again represented by counsel. Id.
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms. Carroll
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 13-28). The Appeals
Council denied Ms. Carroll's request for review, (Tr.
1-5), so the ALJ's 2016 decision constitutes the final,
reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Carroll suffered from the severe impairments
of “asthma; major depressive disorder; bipolar disorder
with psychotic features; and anxiety disorder.” (Tr.
15). Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Carroll retained the residual functional capacity
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and
10 pounds frequently; stand and walk for 6 hours in an 8 hour
day; sit for 6 hours in an 8 hour day; can have no
concentrated exposure to dust, odors, fumes, or pulmonary
irritants; occasional exposure to weather, extreme cold or
heat, and humidity and wetness; is limited to performing
simple, routine, repetitive tasks, but not those done at a
production rate pace, as in an assembly line where each task
must be completed within a fixed time; is limited to making
simple work related decisions, with only occasional changes
in the routine work setting; can have occasional interaction
with supervisors, coworkers, and the public; and time off
task can be accommodated by normal breaks.
(Tr. 18). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms.
Carroll could perform several jobs existing in significant
numbers in the national economy and that, therefore, she was
not disabled. (Tr. 26-27).
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). I have also considered all
of the arguments raised by Ms. Carroll's prior attorney
in his August 16, 2016 letter to the Appeals Council. (Tr.
342-43). 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.
Carroll's favor at step one and determined that she had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged
onset date. (Tr. 15); see 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(i). At step two, the ALJ then considered the
severity of each of the impairments that Ms. Carroll claimed
prevented her from working. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii). Notably, the ALJ found that Ms.
Carroll's iron deficiency anemia and “cannabis
abuse, unspecified” were non-severe, because the
medical evidence did not support a finding that those
impairments would cause more than a minimal limitation on her
ability to work. (Tr. 15-16). However, after finding several
of Ms. Carroll's impairments to be severe, id.,
the ALJ continued with the sequential evaluation and
considered, in assessing Ms. Carroll's RFC, the extent to
which all of her impairments limited her ability to work.
three, the ALJ determined that Ms. Carroll's severe
impairments did not meet, or medically equal, the criteria of
any listings. (Tr. 16-18). In particular, the ALJ considered
the specific requirements of Listing 3.03 (asthma), Listing
12.04 (affective disorders), and Listing 12.06 (anxiety
related disorders). See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App. 1, §§ 3.03, 12.04, 12.06. For Listing 3.03,
the ALJ noted no evidence of the frequency of asthmatic
attacks required to satisfy the listing. (Tr. 16). For the
two mental health listings, the ALJ concluded that Ms.
Carroll had mild restriction in activities of daily living,
moderate difficulties in social functioning and
concentration, persistence, or pace, and no episodes of
decompensation of extended duration, given that none of her
three hospitalizations have lasted two weeks or longer. (Tr.
16-17). The ALJ supported those assessments with citations to
the evidence of record. Id. Under each of the two
mental health listings, a claimant would need to show at
least two areas of marked difficulty, or repeated episodes of
decompensation, to meet the listing criteria. See 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, §§ 12.04, 12.06.
Accordingly, the ALJ did not err in his conclusion that the
listings were not met.
considering Ms. Carroll's RFC, the ALJ summarized her
subjective complaints from her hearing testimony. (Tr. 19).
The ALJ then engaged in a detailed review of Ms.
Carroll's medical records and testing. (Tr. 19-21).
Regarding asthma, the ALJ noted that Ms. Carroll had
experienced “primarily routine and conservative”
treatment, had some periods without any asthma activity, and
continued to smoke cigarettes during at least part of the
period in question. (Tr. 21). The ALJ further noted that Ms.
Carroll's only asthma-related hospitalization was
“in the context of the flu and pregnancy.”
Id. Accordingly, and in light of Ms. Carroll's
activities of daily living including caring for a small child
with special needs without assistance, the ALJ discounted the
opinion of Ms. Carroll's treating pulmonologist, Dr.
Pygros, who opined that Ms. Carroll's asthma caused
frequent and incapacitating limitations. (Tr. 22-23).
to the mental impairments, the ALJ again summarized the
medical treatment and noted the significant improvement of
symptoms when Ms. Carroll consistently took her prescribed
medication. (Tr. 20-22). The ALJ noted that, prior to each of
Ms. Carroll's mental health-related hospitalizations, she
was not taking any psychotropic medications, but her
condition improved each time with treatment. (Tr. 22).
then reviewed Ms. Carroll's self-reported activities of
daily living, which include caring for her two small
children, including one with special needs who does not
attend daycare or school. Id. The ALJ also evaluated
the opinion evidence pertaining to Ms. Carroll's medical
condition, assigning only “little weight” to the
opinions of the non-examining State agency physicians who
believed there was either insufficient evidence to evaluate
the claim or a non-severe mental impairment. (Tr. 25). The
ALJ afforded “some weight” to the opinion
rendered by the consultative psychological examiner, Dr.
Phillips, although the ALJ concluded that the record as a
whole did not substantiate the degree of concentration issues
Dr. Phillips found. Id. The ALJ assigned
“partial weight” to the August 10, 2015 opinion
of a treating physician, Dr. Ahon, finding that most of his
opinion comported with the record. (Tr. 24-25). However, the
ALJ found that Dr. Ahon's suggestions that Ms. Carroll
had a marked limitation in ability to perform at a consistent
pace with regular breaks and would be absent two times per
month were at odds with the record suggesting that Ms.
Carroll's symptoms could be controlled with medication.
(Tr. 25). Finally, the ALJ assigned “little
weight” to the opinions from another treating
physician, Dr. Millam, whose opinions describing significant
limitations were contradicted by Ms. Carroll's activities
of daily living and Dr. Millam's own treatment notes.
(Tr. 24). A later opinion from Dr. Millam that Ms. Carroll
would be temporarily incapacitated by mental health symptoms
from May 22, 2014 to July 31, 2014 was also assigned little
weight, since disability is an issue reserved to the
Commissioner and Dr. Millam's note only established a
limitation less than twelve months in duration. Id.
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. Carroll's position, I am not
permitted to reweigh the evidence or to substitute my own
judgment for that of the ALJ. See Hays v. Sullivan,
907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In considering the
entire record, and given the evidence outlined above, I find
the ALJ's RFC determination was supported by substantial
the ALJ determined that Ms. Carroll had past relevant work as
a mail handler, but that she would be unable to perform that
work based on her RFC. (Tr. 26). Accordingly, the ALJ
proceeded to step five, where he considered the impact of Ms.
Carroll's age, level of education, and RFC on her ability
to adjust to new work. (Tr. 26-27). In doing so, the ALJ
cited the VE's testimony that a person with Ms.
Carroll's RFC would be capable of performing the jobs of
“mail sorter, non-government, ” “sorter,
” and “housekeeper.” (Tr. 27). Based on the
VE's testimony, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Carroll was
capable of successfully adjusting to other jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy. Id. Ms.
Carroll's prior attorney argued that the ALJ posed a
flawed hypothetical question to the VE, because the RFC did
not adequately account for Ms. Carroll's moderate
limitations in concentration, persistence or pace. (Tr. 342)
(citing Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632 (4th Cir.
2015)). However, the ALJ included a restriction to work that
is not “done at a production rate pace, as in an
assembly line where each task must be completed within a
fixed time.” (Tr. 18). This Court has repeatedly held
that such a restriction satisfies the requirement in
Mascio. See, e.g., Reinhardt v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., Civil No. SAG-16-3227,
2017 WL 2274948, at *2 (D. Md. May ...