United States District Court, D. Maryland
MARK COULSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
August 9, 2017, Ms. Shannon Michelle Smith petitioned this
Court to review the Social Security Administration's
final decision to deny her claims for Supplemental Security
Income. (ECF No. 1). I have considered the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 12, 13). I find
that no hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016).
This Court must uphold the decision of the Agency if it is
supported by substantial evidence and correct legal standards
were employed. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Under that
standard, I will deny Ms. Smith's motion, grant the
Government's motion, and affirm the Social Security
Administration's judgment pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). This letter explains my rationale.
Smith filed a claim for benefits on May 1, 2013. (Tr. 27).
Her claim was denied initially and on reconsideration
following appeal. (Tr. 86-95). Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Tierney Carlos held a hearing on March
23, 2016. (Tr. 42-85). Following that hearing, on July 7,
2016, the ALJ determined that Ms. Smith was not disabled
during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 24-37). The Appeals
Council denied Ms. Smith's request for review on June 19,
2017, making the ALJ's decision the final, reviewable
decision of the Agency. (Tr. 1-3).
arriving at his decision to deny Ms. Smith's claim, the
ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation of
disability set forth in the Secretary's regulations. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920. “To summarize, the ALJ asks at
step one whether the claimant has been working; at step two,
whether the claimant's medical impairments meet the
regulations' severity and duration requirements; at step
three, whether the medical impairments meet or equal an
impairment listed in the regulations; at step four, whether
the claimant can perform her past work given the limitations
caused by her medical impairments; and at step five, whether
the claimant can perform other work.” Mascio v.
Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015). If the
first three steps do not yield a conclusive determination,
the ALJ then assesses the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), “which is ‘the
most' the claimant ‘can still do despite'
physical and mental limitations that affect her ability to
work, ” by considering all of the claimant's
medically determinable impairments regardless of severity.
Id. at 635 (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1)).
The claimant bears the burden of proof through the first four
steps of the sequential evaluation. If she makes the
requisite showing, the burden shifts to the Social Security
Administration at step five to prove “that the claimant
can perform other work that ‘exists in significant
numbers in the national economy, ' considering the
claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education,
and work experience.” Lewis v. Berryhill, 858
F.3d 858, 862 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal citations omitted).
case, at step one, the ALJ found that Ms. Smith had not
engaged in “substantial gainful activity” since
May 1, 2013, the date of Ms. Smith's application. (Tr.
29). At step two, the ALJ determined that Ms. Smith's
anxiety disorder and pervasive developmental disorder
constitute severe impairments under the relevant regulations.
(Tr. 29-30). At step three, the ALJ found that Ms. Smith does
not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meet or medically equal the severity of any of the listed
impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (Tr. 30-32). Then, “[a]fter careful
consideration of the entire record, ” the ALJ
determined that Ms. Smith has the RFC to perform:
a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the
following nonexertional limitations: she can have no exposure
to weather and is limited to work environments with no more
than moderate noise level, as defined in the selected
characteristics of occupations. She can be expected to
respond appropriately with supervisors unlimitedly,
co-workers frequently and with the public occasionally.
(Tr. 32). At step four, the ALJ determined that Ms. Smith has
no past relevant work. (Tr. 36). Finally, after considering
the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that
Ms. Smith can perform work existing in significant numbers in
the national economy and that she was therefore not disabled
during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 36-37).
Court reviews an ALJ's decision to ensure that the
ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and
were reached through application of correct legal standards.
Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir.
2012). “Substantial evidence means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion, ” which “consists of more
than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be less than a
preponderance.” Id. (internal citations and
quotations omitted). In accordance with this standard, the
Court does not “undertake to reweigh conflicting
evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute
[its] judgment for that of the ALJ.” Johnson v.
Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (internal
citations and quotations omitted). Instead, “[w]here
conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to
whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that
decision falls on the ALJ.” Id.
appeal, Ms. Smith argues that the ALJ failed to: (1) consider
the impact of her severe mental impairment on her RFC; and
(2) acknowledge Dr. Reichenbach's neuropsychological
evaluation and testing. Ms. Smith's two arguments lack
merit, and both will be addressed in turn.
Smith's Severe Mental Impairment & RFC
Smith first argues that the ALJ, after determining that she
has a severe mental impairment, failed to properly consider
the impact of this impairment on her RFC. Ms. Smith cites
Social Security Rulings 96-8p and 85-15 in support of her
assertion as to the ALJ's alleged failure to “make
any findings regarding the claimant's ability to
understand, carry out and remember simple instructions, to
respond appropriately to usual work situations, and to deal
with changes in a routine work setting.” (ECF No. 12-1
at 7-8). Ms. Smith admits that the vocational expert
testified that the added limitations of “simple,
routine, repetitive tasks” and “simple
work-related decisions” would not affect her ability to
perform the provided jobs, but also argues that the
vocational expert was not asked about an individual with
limitations as to “changes in a routine work
setting” and “responding appropriately to usual
work situations.” Id. at 8.
Security regulations require an ALJ to “identify the
[claimant's] functional limitations or restrictions and
assess his or her work-related abilities on a
function-by-function basis.” Mascio v. Colvin,
780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th Cir. 2015). To satisfy the
function-by-function analysis requirement, the ALJ must
include a “narrative discussion of the claimant's
symptoms and medical source opinions” to support the
RFC determination. White v. Commissioner, Civ. No.
SAG-16-2428, 2017 WL 1373236, at *1 (D. Md. Apr. 13, 2017)
(internal citation and quotations omitted); see also
Taylor v. Astrue, Civ. No. BPG-11-0032, 2012 WL 294532,
at *6 (D. Md. Jan. 31, 2012) (internal citation and
quotations omitted) (finding that an ALJ's “RFC
assessment is sufficient if it includes a narrative
discussion of the claimant's symptoms and medical source
at step three, the ALJ found that Ms. Smith has mild
restrictions in activities of daily living, moderate
difficulties in social functioning, mild difficulties with
regard to concentration, persistence, or pace, and no
episodes of decompensation that have been of extended
duration. (Tr. 31). Even so, “a finding of moderate
impairment in a particular broad functioning area does not
automatically indicate that a claimant's condition will
significantly impact his or her ability to perform
work-related functions.” Bell v. Astrue, Civ.
No. JKS-07-00924, slip op. at *8 (D. Md. Mar. 12, 2008). As
Ms. Smith has admitted, the ALJ's ultimate finding that
she was not disabled during the relevant time period would
not have been affected even if the ALJ had included
limitations of “simple, routine, repetitive
tasks” and “simple work-related decisions”
within the RFC assessment, as these ...