United States District Court, D. Maryland
CHARLES CHASE, JR.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY
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 Social Security
Administration's (“SSA's”) dispositive
motion, [ECF No. 14], and to make recommendations pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 301.5(b)(ix).
Plaintiff Charles Chase, Jr., who proceeds pro se,
did not file a response to the SSA's Motion for Summary
Judgment. I have considered the SSA's Motion.
[ECF No. 14]. I find that no hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). This Court must
uphold the SSA's decision if it is supported by
substantial evidence and if the SSA 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 SSA's motion and affirm the SSA's judgment
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Chase filed a claim for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) on September 11, 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of September 1, 2009. (Tr. 149-54). His
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr.
65-78). A hearing, at which Mr. Chase failed to appear but
was represented by counsel, was held on July 11, 2016, before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 48-54).
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Mr. Chase was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 26-43). The Appeals
Council denied Mr. Chase's request for review, (Tr.
10-15), so the ALJ's decision constitutes the final,
reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Mr. Chase suffered from the severe impairments of
“polysubstance abuse disorder and an affective
disorder.” (Tr. 31). Despite these impairments, the ALJ
determined that Mr. Chase retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: he could
perform only simple, routine tasks, with no more than
occasional changes in the routine work setting. He could have
only occasional contact with supervisors, coworkers, and the
(Tr. 35). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr. Chase
could perform several jobs existing in significant numbers in
the national economy and that, therefore, he was not
disabled. (Tr. 38-39).
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). 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 Mr.
Chase's favor at step one and determined that he had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since his application
date. (Tr. 31); 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 Mr. Chase claimed
prevented him from working. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii). Notably, the ALJ found that Mr.
Chase's hepatitis, sciatica, back pain, shoulder pain,
hypertension, and myocardial infarction were non-severe
impairments, and that his coronary artery disease and anxiety
were non-medically determinable impairments. (Tr. 32-33).
However, after finding several of Mr. Chase's other
impairments to be severe, (Tr. 31), the ALJ continued with
the sequential evaluation and considered, in assessing Mr.
Chase's RFC, the extent to which all of his impairments,
both mental and physical, limited his ability to work. (Tr.
three, the ALJ determined that Mr. Chase's severe
impairments did not meet, or medically equal, the criteria of
any listings. (Tr. 33-35). In particular, the ALJ considered
the specific requirements of Listing 12.04 (affective
disorders), and Listing 12.09 (at the time, a listing for
substance abuse disorders). See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1 §§ 12.04, 12.09. Listing 12.09
required evaluation under other mental health listings, so
Listing 12.04 would have been applicable. Thus, for the two
mental health listings, considering Mr. Chase's
polysubstance abuse, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Chase had
moderate restriction in activities of daily living (which
would be mild without substance abuse), moderate difficulties
in social functioning (which would be mild to moderate
without substance abuse), and moderate difficulties in
concentration, persistence, or pace (which would be minimal
without substance abuse). (Tr. 33-34). The ALJ also found no
episodes of decompensation of extended duration. (Tr. 34).
The ALJ supported those assessments with citations to the
evidence of record. Id. Under the 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, 12.09. Accordingly, the
ALJ did not err in his conclusion that the listings were not
considering Mr. Chase's RFC, the ALJ summarized his
subjective complaints from his filings. (Tr. 35). The ALJ
then engaged in a detailed review of Mr. Chase's medical
records and testing. (Tr. 35-37). The ALJ had already
analyzed Mr. Chase's alleged physical impairments at step
two, and cited to medical evidence establishing that the
issues were non-severe, either because they caused no more
than minimal effects on his ability to work or because they
did not meet the durational requirement. (Tr. 32). In the RFC
assessment, then, the ALJ focused on Mr. Chase's mental
impairments and found that Mr. Chase's mild bipolar
disorder “would be unlikely to cause significant
functional limitations on its own, ” given his
“generally normal mental status examination
results.” (Tr. 36). The ALJ found that the issues Mr.
Chase has with socialization and concentration are caused by
his polysubstance abuse. Id. Even with the
polysubstance abuse, Mr. Chase's overall mental symptoms
remained moderate. (Tr. 36-37). The ALJ assessed and made
assignments of weight to the medical opinions in the record.
(Tr. 37). In particular, the ALJ considered a GAF score
assessed by a social worker who examined the claimant in
August, 2015. Id. The ALJ noted that the social
worker was a non-acceptable medical source and that the
assigned GAF score is inconsistent with Mr. Chase's
generally normal presentation during his mental status
examinations. Id. Accordingly, the ALJ assigned the
GAF score “little weight.” 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 Mr. Chase'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 evidence.
the ALJ determined that Mr. Chase had no past relevant work.
(Tr. 38). Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to step five, where
he considered the impact of Mr. Chase's age, level of
education, and RFC on his ability to adjust to new work. (Tr.
38-39). In doing so, the ALJ cited the VE's testimony
that a person with Mr. Chase's RFC would be capable of
performing the jobs of “cleaner, ” “shirt
presser, ” and “photocopy machine
operator.” (Tr. 38). Based on the VE's testimony,
the ALJ concluded that Mr. Chase was capable of successfully
adjusting to other jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy. Id. The ALJ's reliance on
the VE's testimony constitutes substantial evidence
supporting his conclusion.
reasons set forth above, I respectfully recommend that the
Court GRANT Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, [ECF