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Hofmann v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 23, 2018

Hofmann
v.
Colvin [1]

          Stephen F. Shea, Esq. Elkind and Shea.

          Lindsay Nicole Norris. Esq.

         Dear Counsel:

         Pending before this Court, by the parties' consent, are their cross motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 2, 6, 15, 18). The Court must uphold the Social Security Administrations's (“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). 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, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED and the Defendant's Motion is GRANTED. I am affirming the SSA's judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 21, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Title II Application for Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging that disability began on November 1, 2009. (Tr. 16). Plaintiff's application was denied initially (January 22, 2013), and upon reconsideration (July 16, 2013), by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). Id. Plaintiff's request for a hearing was granted and conducted on February 27, 2015 by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Michael A. Krasnow. The ALJ issued his decision that Plaintiff was not disabled on April 1, 2015. (Tr. 12). The SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 9, 2015. (Tr. 6). Accordingly, the ALJ's opinion became the final and reviewable decision of the Commissioner. Id.

         Plaintiff petitioned this Court on August 27, 2016, raising three arguments. First, that the ALJ's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) determination was erroneous. Second, that the ALJ did not appropriately evaluate the Plaintiff's subjective complaints of pain. Third, that the ALJ did not properly develop the record because he did not order a consultative examination.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. The RFC Determination

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in performing the function-by-function assessment of her ability to perform the physical and mental demands of work. Specifically, Plaintiff avers that the ALJ: 1) improperly evaluated the opinions of a Disability Determination Service (“DDS”) physician and a consultative examiner; and 2) failed to explain why he did not include a sit/stand option in his assessment.

         The RFC determination “must be based on all the relevant evidence in [plaintiff's] case record. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1) (2012). The ALJ must include a narrative discussion describing how the evidence supports his RFC determination. Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p, 61 Fed. Reg. 34, 474, 34, 475 (July 2, 1996). The ALJ must “build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion.” Petry v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No. 16-464, 2017 WL 680379, at **1, 2 (D. Md. Feb. 21, 2017) (internal citations omitted). In evaluating the ALJ's RFC determination, the Court's role is not to “reweigh the evidence or to substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ, but simply to adjudicate whether the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence.” See Fulton v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 15-2419, 2016 WL 1460463, at **1, 3 (D. Md. Apr. 14, 2016) (internal citations omitted).

         1. The ALJ's Findings

         As a preliminary matter, I note that the ALJ's evaluation and description of the evidence was comprehensive. The ALJ considered objective medical evidence and subjective evidence of Plaintiff's pain, including her complaints of “chronic pain, arthritis, obesity, and anxiety.” (See, e.g., Tr. 23). The ALJ also considered opinion evidence from Drs. Hakkarinen, Singh, Brophy and Denekas, as well as from consultative examiner Dr. Toloria Braswell, and described the evaluations of Plaintiff's physical ailments. (See Tr. 21-32, 34, 42, 88-89, 333-346, 358, 369).

         The ALJ's function-by-function analysis methodically addressed plaintiff's abilities. For example, the ALJ reviewed plaintiff's history of suffering from back problems from the mid-1990's onward. (E.g., Tr. 23, 27). The ALJ discussed plaintiff's leg pain and anxiety, and plaintiff's testimony that she can stand for no more than five minutes at a time, that she can only lift five to six pounds, and that she has difficulty sleeping. (Tr. 23-27). In addition, the ALJ noted plaintiff's ability to drive, her bi-weekly routine of visiting Walmart, her capacity to sit at her sewing machine for twenty minutes at a time, and her use of yoga to deal with her fibromyalgia. (Tr. 24). Furthermore, the ALJ mentioned plaintiff's vacationing on a Bahamian cruise when her ...


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