United States District Court, D. Maryland
STAR U. HOLLOMAN,
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL Security Administration, 
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
to Standing Order 2014-01, the above-captioned case has been
referred to me to review the parties' dispositive motions
and to make recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 301.5(b)(ix). [ECF No. 4].
Plaintiff Star U. Holloman, who proceeds pro se,
filed this appeal of the denial of her claim for benefits by
the Social Security Administration (“the
Commissioner”). [ECF No. 1]. The Commissioner filed a
Motion for Summary Judgment on April 19, 2018. [ECF No. 16].
On April 20, 2018, the Clerk's Office sent a Rule 12/56
letter to Ms. Holloman, advising her of the potential
consequences of failing to oppose the Commissioner's
Motion. [ECF No. 17]. Ms. Holloman has not filed a response.
No. hearing is deemed necessary. See Local Rule
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 will recommend that the Court grant the
Commissioner's motion and affirm the Commissioner's
judgment pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
March 8, 2013, Ms. Holloman filed her claim for Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”), alleging a disability
onset date of May 4, 2009. (Tr. 134). Her claim was denied
initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 88-91, 96-97). On
March 9, 2016, a hearing was held before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 30-68). Following the
hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 30,
2016. (Tr. 12-29). The Appeals Council denied Ms.
Holloman's request for further review, (Tr. 1-6), so the
ALJ's 2016 decision constitutes the final, reviewable
decision of the Agency.
found that, during the relevant time frame, Ms. Holloman
suffered from the severe impairment of affective disorders.
(Tr. 17). Despite this impairment, the ALJ determined that
Ms. Holloman retained the residual functional capacity
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant
can understand and remember simple instructions; she is able
to execute simple tasks on a consistent basis (two hours at a
time with normal breaks for a complete 8-hour workday); and
she is limited to occasional interaction with others and
little to no change in the work setting.
(Tr. 19). After considering testimony from a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that there were
several jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy that Ms. Holloman could perform. (Tr. 23-24). Thus,
the ALJ concluded that Ms. Holloman was not disabled. (Tr.
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.
one, the ALJ found in Ms. Holloman's favor, concluding
that she had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her application date. (Tr. 17). At step two, the ALJ
found the above-listed severe impairment, and found that any
other alleged impairments- including anemia, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disorder (“COPD”), asthma,
and hypertension were not severe. Id.
three, the ALJ determined that Ms. Holloman did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the criteria set forth in any listings.
(Tr. 18-19). Specifically, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Holloman's impairment did not meet Listing 12.04.
Id. Listings 12.00 et. seq., pertain to
mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1
§ 12.00. The relevant listings therein consist of: (1) a
brief statement describing a subject disorder; (2)
“paragraph A criteria, ” which consists of a set
of medical findings; and (3) “paragraph B criteria,
” which consists of a set of impairment-related
functional limitations. Id. § 12.00(A). If both
the paragraph A criteria and the paragraph B criteria are
satisfied, the ALJ will determine that the claimant meets the
listed impairment. Id.
B consists of four broad functional areas: (1) activities of
daily living; (2) social functioning; (3) concentration,
persistence, or pace; and (4) episodes of decompensation. The
ALJ employs the “special technique” to rate a
claimant's degree of limitation in each area, based on
the extent to which the claimant's impairment
“interferes with [the claimant's] ability to
function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a
sustained basis.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a(c)(2). The
ALJ uses a five-point scale to rate a claimant's degree
of limitation in the first three areas: none, mild, moderate,
marked, or extreme. Id. § 404.1520a(c)(4). In
order to satisfy paragraph B, a claimant must exhibit either
“marked” limitations in two of the first three
areas, or “marked” limitation in one of the first
three areas with repeated episodes of decompensation.
See, e.g., 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1
§ 12.02. Marked limitations “may arise when
several activities or functions are impaired, or even when
only one is impaired, as long as the degree of limitation is
such as to interfere seriously with [the claimant's]
ability to function.” Id. § 12.00(C).
functional area of “concentration, persistence, or pace
refers to the ability to sustain focused attention and
concentration sufficiently long to permit the timely and
appropriate completion of tasks commonly found in work
settings.” Id. at § 12.00(C)(3). Social
Security regulations do not define limitations in
concentration, persistence, or pace “by a specific
number of tasks that [a claimant is] unable to
complete.” Id. Further, the regulations offer
little guidance on the meaning of “moderate”
applying the special technique for consideration of mental
impairments, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Holloman had only
“mild” restriction in daily living activities,
and “moderate” difficulties in social functioning
and concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 18).
The ALJ further found that Ms. Holloman had experienced no
episodes of decompensation. Id. In reaching these
conclusions, the ALJ considered Ms. Holloman's reported
daily activities, including keeping her house very clean,
cooking, washing dishes, laundering, sweeping, mopping,
vacuuming, and completing personal tasks. Id.;
see (Tr. 51-55, 60, 183-84). Moreover, in
considering social functioning, the ALJ considered Ms.
Holloman's ability to attend appointments, pay bills, and
socialize with members of her family. (Tr. 18); see
(Tr. 53-54, 184-85). With respect to concentration,
persistence or pace, the ALJ noted Ms. Holloman's
assertions that she did not want to take any medication and
had no difficulty crocheting, watching television, paying
bills, or counting change. (Tr. 18); see (Tr. 44,
52, 57, 184). Finally, the ALJ noted that Ms. Holloman has
never sought formal mental health treatment and has never
been hospitalized as a result of her mental impairment. (Tr.
18); see (Tr. 327). In light of the ALJ's
findings, I have carefully reviewed the record, and I agree
that no listings are met.
determining the RFC assessment, the ALJ summarized Ms.
Holloman's allegations about her inability to work, and
found that Ms. Holloman's “statements concerning
the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these
symptoms are not entirely consistent with the medical
evidence and other evidence in the record . . . .” (Tr.
21). In particular, the ALJ determined that, despite Ms.
Holloman's allegations, the record reflected that she was
“capable of substantial and independent activities of
daily living.” Id. Most important to the ALJ,
“the medical evidence of record [was] void of objective
evidence to support a more restrictive RFC.”
Id. However, the limited amount of medical evidence
available, according to the ALJ, also conflicted with Ms.
Holloman's allegations. Specifically, the ALJ explained
that Ms. Holloman's: (1) March 14, 2011 treatment notes
from JAI Medical Center demonstrated that she had a history
of depression, but that no medication was prescribed nor a
follow-up recommended; (2) March 18, 2012 examination with
Maryland General Hospital ER revealed normal psychiatric
symptoms and that, at that time, she was not taking any
medication; and (3) March 27, 2012 examination with Maryland
General Hospital Clinic demonstrated that, despite being
prescribed medication for depression, she did not want to
take it and also refused to stop smoking. Id.;
see (Tr. 238, 252, 266-70, 277, 279, 282). Moreover,
treatments notes from Total Health Care from December 20,
2013 through March 2016 demonstrated normal physical
findings, including no wheezing, no shortness of breath, and
normal breath sounds with good air movement. (Tr. 21);
see (Tr. 357, 360, 370, 372, 376, 378, 381, 386,
388, 390, 392, 394, 400). The Total Health Care records also
demonstrated that Ms. Holloman's mental status
examinations revealed good judgment, normal mood and affect,
and stable sleeping. (Tr. 21); see (Tr. 354, 360,
also assigned partial weight to the opinion, upon
reconsideration, of the non-examining State agency
consultant. (Tr. 21). Specifically, the ALJ assigned great
weight to the consultant's findings that Ms. Holloman
could execute simple tasks, adjust to simple changes, and
make simple decisions, however, accorded little weight to the
consultant's finding that Ms. Holloman was capable of
“appropriate socialization.” (Tr. 21-22);
see (Tr. 76). Instead, as discussed above, the ALJ
afforded Ms. Holloman additional limitations in social
functioning “to account for evidence of limitations
received at the hearing level.” (Tr. 21-22). Moreover,
the ALJ thoroughly considered the results of Ms.
Holloman's consultative examinations with Drs. Stephen
Hirsch, Gregory Ross, and Daniel Arnheim. For example, Dr.
Hirsch's mental status examination revealed that Ms.
Holloman: (1) exhibited a neutral mood; (2) scored a 26 out
of a possible 30 points on her mini mental status
examination; and (3) appeared able to understand simple and
complex instructions without becoming a distraction to
supervisors or coworkers. (Tr. 22); see (Tr.