United States District Court, D. Maryland
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). I have considered
the parties' cross-dispositive motions and the
accompanying memoranda. [ECF Nos. 22, 25, 28]. I find that no
hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.
2016). This Court must uphold the decision of the Social
Security Administration (“SSA”) if it is
supported by substantial evidence and if the SSA employed
proper legal standards. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th
Cir. 1996); Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th
Cir. 1987). For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that
Mr. Warns's motion be denied, that the SSA's motion
be granted, and that the SSA's judgment be affirmed
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Warns filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) on May 20, 2013, alleging a disability
onset date of April 29, 2013. (Tr. 217-20). His application
was denied initially on August 20, 2013, and on
reconsideration on November 22, 2013. (Tr. 121-44, 145-64).
An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a
hearing on September 11, 2015, at which Mr. Warns was
represented by counsel. (Tr. 49-120). Following the hearing,
the ALJ determined that Mr. Warns was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time
frame. (Tr. 22-44). After considering additional evidence
submitted by Mr. Warns's attorney, the Appeals Council
denied Mr. Warns's request for review, (Tr. 1-6), so the
ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision
of the Agency.
found that Mr. Warns suffered from the severe impairments of
“degenerative disc disease; status post right ankle
surgery; anxiety disorder; affective disorder; borderline
personality disorder; and ganglion cyst on right
wrist.” (Tr. 25). Despite these impairments, the ALJ
determined that Mr. Warns retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
that he is further limited to: occasional pushing/pulling
with right foot controls; occasional climbing of ramps or
stairs; occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling,
or balancing on narrow, slippery, or erratically moving
surfaces; never climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; and
performing simple, routine, repetitive tasks with occasional
contact with co-workers, supervisors or the general public.
He may require time off task, which can be accommodated by
28). After considering the testimony of a vocational expert
(“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr. Warns could
perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy, and that, therefore, he was not disabled. (Tr.
Warns disagrees. He raises four primary arguments on appeal:
(1) that the ALJ erred in assessing his subjective
complaints; (2) that the ALJ failed to order a consultative
evaluation; (3) that the ALJ did not incorporate all of the
limitations from an opinion to which he had assigned
“great weight;” and (4) that the Appeals Council
did not adequately consider new evidence submitted into the
record. Each argument lacks merit for the reasons discussed
Mr. Warns argues that “the ALJ found that the
subjective complaints of Mr. Warns were not credible based
largely on the lack of objective evidence showing damage to
his ankle, knee and back.” Pl. Mot. 7. Had the ALJ
relied exclusively on a lack of objective evidence, the
analysis would be flawed. See Hines v. Barnhart, 453
F.3d 559, 563-64 (4th Cir. 2006) (permitting a claimant to
rely on subjective testimony to establish the disabling
effects of a medically determinable impairment); Lewis v.
Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 866 (4th Cir. 2017)
(“[S]ubjective evidence of pain intensity cannot be
discounted solely because of objective medical
findings.”). Here, however, while the lack of objective
evidence formed one component of the ALJ's assessment of
Mr. Warns's subjective complaints, the ALJ also relied on
a great deal of additional evidence, such as Mr. Warns's
testimony about his activities of daily living, (Tr. 30); Mr.
Warns's repeated declination of treatment offered by his
treating doctors, (Tr. 32); Mr. Warns's inconsistent
statements regarding the severity of his symptoms, (Tr.
32-33); and Mr. Warns's statements suggesting he was
altering his activities in an effort to procure disability
benefits, (Tr. 33). The ALJ, then, performed a proper
analysis and did not rely exclusively on objective evidence
to assess Mr. Warns's subjective assertions of disabling
Warns next contends that the ALJ erred by failing to schedule
a consultative examination. Pl. Mot. 7. An ALJ “has a
duty to explore all relevant facts and inquire into the
issues necessary for adequate development of the record, and
cannot rely only on the evidence submitted by the claimant
when that evidence is inadequate.” Cook v.
Heckler, 783 F.2d 1168, 1173 (4th Cir. 1986) (citations
omitted). However, an ALJ has discretion in deciding whether
to order a consultative examination. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.919a(a); Bishop v. Barnhart, 78 Fed.Appx.
265, 268 (4th Cir. 2003). A consultative examination is only
needed when the evidentiary record before the ALJ is
inadequate. France v. Apfel, 87 F.Supp.2d 484,
489-90 (D. Md. 2000). A consultative examination may be used
to “resolve any conflicts or ambiguities within the
record, as well as ‘to secure needed medical evidence
the file does not contain such as clinical findings,
laboratory tests, a diagnosis or prognosis necessary for
decision.'” Kersey v. Astrue, 614
F.Supp.2d 679, 693 (W.D. Va. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1519a(a)(2), 416.919a(a)(2)). The mere
existence of contradictory evidence, some supporting and some
undermining an allegation of disability, does not mandate
that an ALJ order a consultative examination, where, as here,
the ALJ cites to adequate evidence to support his
Warns's third contention is that the ALJ erred by failing
to incorporate a specific limitation suggested by his
treating physician, Dr. Corvera, despite assigning
“great weight” to Dr. Corvera's opinion. Pl.
Mot. 7. Social Security regulations provide that:
If we find that a treating source's medical opinion on
the issue(s) of the nature and severity of [a claimant's]
impairment(s) is well-supported by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the]
case record, we will give it controlling weight.
C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2), 416.927(c)(2). However,
if a treating source's medical opinion is not assigned
controlling weight, the ALJ should consider the following
factors in determining the weight to give the opinion: (1)
the length of the treatment relationship, including its
nature and extent; (2) the supportability of the opinion; (3)
the opinion's consistency with the record as a whole; (4)
whether the source is a specialist; and (5) any other factors
that tend to support or contradict the opinion. Id.
§§ 404.1527(c), 416.927(c).
instant case, the ALJ assessed multiple opinions rendered by
Dr. Corvera, and assigned various amounts of weight to
various portions of those opinions. (Tr. 34-36). The portion
cited by Mr. Warns is a limitation relating to his back
impairment, suggesting that Mr. Warns has “additional
functional loss due to pain, weakness, lack of endurance,
fatigability and incoordination after repetitive use.”
(Tr. 977). However, with respect to Mr. Warns's back
impairment, the ALJ assigned Dr. Corvera's opinion only
“partial weight, ” because those opinions
“appear to be based solely on the claimant's
subjective complaints” and are undermined by the
claimant's activities. (Tr. 36). Thus, the ALJ provided a
detailed explanation for the assignment of partial weight
and, accordingly, the reason for declining to impose the
back-related limitation that Dr. Corvera suggested.
this 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 Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d
1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Where conflicting evidence allows
reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is
disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls to the
ALJ. Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 179 (4th Cir.