Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Woldesellase v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

April 19, 2018


         Dear Counsel:

         Pending before this Court, by the parties' consent, are Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 2, 3, 13, 14). The Court must uphold the Social Security Administration (“SSA”)'s decision 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) (2016); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). The substantial evidence rule “consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Id. This Court shall not “re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment” for that of the SSA. Id. Upon review of the pleadings and the record, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED and the Defendant's Motion is GRANTED. I am affirming the SSA's judgment.


         Plaintiff filed a Title II Application for Disability Insurance Benefits on behalf of her son, 7-year-old S.N., on July 31, 2012, alleging disability onset of May 29, 2012. (Tr. 143). Plaintiff's application was denied initially (December 4, 2012), and upon reconsideration (July 24, 2013), by the SSA. (Tr. 83, 90). Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing on September 9, 2013, (Tr. 93), that was granted and conducted on August 12, 2015 by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) F. H. Ayer. (Tr. 39). The ALJ issued a decision finding that S.N. was not disabled on October 30, 2015. (Tr. 15). The SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 10, 2017. (Tr. 1). Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became a final and reviewable decision of the SSA. Id.

         Plaintiff filed her appeal to this Court on May 15, 2017, (ECF No. 1), and argues that the ALJ: 1) erroneously evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints related to his impairments by using the wrong standard; and 2) improperly concluded that Plaintiff's impairments did not functionally equal a Listing. (ECF Nos. 13 at 2, 6).


         A. Evaluation of Subjective Complaints

         Plaintiff first alleges that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of Plaintiff's symptoms because he “applied an improper standard in evaluating credibility” of the parental reports regarding the same. (ECF No. 13 at 3). The Court disagrees.

         1. Credibility Evaluation Standard

         In general, an ALJ should follow the two-step process established in Chater to evaluate a claimant's subjective complaints of pain and/or symptoms. See Chater, 76 F.3d at 591. The ALJ should first ensure that subjective claims are supported by objective medical evidence showing the existence of a medical impairment which could reasonably be expected to produce the pain. Id. After meeting that threshold, “the intensity and persistence of the claimant's pain, and the extent to which it affects her ability to work, must be evaluated.” Id. at 595. The Fourth Circuit clarifies that a claimant's allegations “need not be accepted to the extent they are inconsistent with the available evidence, including objective evidence of the underlying impairment, and the extent to which that impairment can reasonably be expected to cause the pain the claimant alleges . . .” Id. (emphasis added).

         The same standard applies when evaluating a child's subjective complaints through his parents' testimony. See Allen ex rel. D.D.N. v. Commissioner, Social Security, No. 12-2596, 2013 WL 3816744, at *3 (D. Md. July 19, 2013) (evaluating Ms. Allen's testimony and credibility with regard to ADHD symptoms); Gerette v. Colvin, No. 15-12, 2016 WL 1254611, at *8 (W.D. Va. Feb. 2, 2016) (“The ALJ must make specific findings concerning the credibility of the [caregiver's] testimony, just as he would if the child were testifying.”) (internal quotations omitted). The ALJ is “not required to accept the caregiver's testimony about the child's symptoms at face value.” Gerette, 2016 WL 1254611, at *8 (noting that the regulation requires the ALJ to weigh testimony with “all of the evidence, including not only the objective medical evidence, but statements and other information provided by physicians or psychologists and other persons about her symptoms and how they affect her and any other relevant evidence in the case record.”).

         In Allen, the court noted that although the ALJ did not “expressly assign any measure of weight to Ms. Allen's testimony, it is abundantly evident from the ALJ's opinion that he did not find Ms. Allen to be credible on many issues.” Allen, 2013 WL 3816744, at *3. The ALJ specifically noted areas where Ms. Allen's testimony directly contradicted other evidence in the record to deem Ms. Allen's testimony regarding certain symptoms as unreliable. Id. However, the ALJ also relied on Ms. Allen's testimony “when it appeared to be more consistent with other evidence.” Id. That court found that the ALJ's consideration of Ms. Allen's credibility and, specifically, the ALJ's acceptance or rejection of the testimony in light of the entire record was supported by substantial evidence. Id.

         In the instant case, S.N.'s complaints were, as in Allen, expressed via his parents' statements. The ALJ first found that claimant's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to produce the alleged symptoms. (Tr. 24). The ALJ evaluated the medical evidence, including physicians' reports. (Tr. 24-25). The ALJ noted that Dr. Diwahd, who wrote reports dated from 2009 to 2014, referenced hyperactive behaviors and recommended special education at school and at home. (Tr. 24). The ALJ also considered the reports of Dr. Calbert, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician, who examined claimant in 2012, finding developmental skills that were not regressed and above average Peabody developmental testing scores, but also minor neural motor dysfunction and visual motor delay. (Tr. 24-25). Dr. Calbert, the ALJ notes, prescribed behavior modification and Focalin, which was effective and had no significant side effects. (Tr. 25). The ALJ also took into account the evaluations of state agency physicians Dr. Vaidya, Dr. Holmes, and Dr. Oidick, who corroborated the other physicians' finding of symptoms that could be produced by claimant's impairments. (Tr. 25, 27- 33).

         Second, the ALJ properly evaluated the parents' statements in light of all of the evidence on the record, including reports and testimony related to S.N.'s symptoms, including those of his parents. (See Tr. 24-25). The ALJ considered the following objective evidence to assess credibility: (a) S.N.'s lack of a special education plan; (b) positive responses to medication; (c) a lack of parental “follow through” with the prescribed behavior modification; and (d) S.N.'s good behavior in school. Id. In doing so, the ALJ concluded that: (1) the lack of a special education plan was persuasive evidence of non-disabling symptoms; (2) S.N.'s positive responses to medication undermined allegations relating to symptoms severity and disability; and (3) if S.N.'s parents could follow through with behavioral modification at home, S.N.'s behavior would improve to ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.