United States District Court, D. Maryland
ROGER K. WASHINGTON,
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. 3].
Plaintiff Roger K. Washington, who proceeds pro se,
filed this appeal of the denial of his claim for benefits by
the Social Security Administration (“the
Commissioner”). [ECF No. 1]. Although he did not
formally file a Motion for Summary Judgment, Mr. Washington
filed documents consisting of some medical records from 2017
and an asbestos certificate proving that he worked in the
1980s. [ECF No. 14]. The Commissioner filed a Motion for
Summary Judgment on April 30, 2018. [ECF No. 15]. On May 1,
2018, the Clerk's Office sent a Rule 12/56 letter to Mr.
Washington, advising him of the potential consequences of
failing to oppose the Commissioner's Motion. [ECF No.
16]. On May 17, 2018, Mr. Washington filed a one-page
Opposition to the Commissioner's Motion. [ECF No. 17].
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. §
April, 2013, Mr. Washington filed his claims for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”), alleging a disability
onset date of March 1, 2013. (Tr. 161, 163). His claims were
denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 108-112,
114-117). On April 19, 2016, a hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 33-63).
The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on July 19, 2016. (Tr.
14-32). The Appeals Council denied Mr. Washington's
request for further review, (Tr. 1-6), so the ALJ's 2016
decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the
found that, during the relevant time frame, Mr. Washington
suffered from the severe impairment of “a vision
disorder / retinal hemorrhage and a pain disorder.”
(Tr. 19). Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that
Mr. Washington retained the residual functional capacity
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except with occasional climbing (of ramps and
stairs only), balancing, stooping, crouching, crawling, and
kneeling; no balancing on uneven surfaces; must avoid hazards
such as unprotected heights, moving machinery, and driving;
not requiring peripheral vision for safety; and not requiring
normal depth perception or binocular vision.
(Tr. 22). 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 Mr. Washington could perform. (Tr. 27). Thus,
the ALJ concluded that Mr. Washington 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 Mr. Washington's favor, concluding
that he had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
his application date. (Tr. 19). At step two, the ALJ found
the above-listed severe impairments, and found that any other
alleged impairments- specifically hypertension and
generalized anxiety disorder - were not severe. (Tr. 19-20).
three, the ALJ determined that Mr. Washington did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the criteria set forth in any listings.
(Tr. 22). Specifically, the ALJ gave “[s]pecial
consideration” to Mr. Washington's vision
impairment and determined that it did not satisfy any of the
Listings under Section 2.00. Id.; see 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404, Subpt. P, App. 1 § 2.00. 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 Mr.
Washington's allegations about his inability to work, and
found that Mr. Washington'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.
23). In particular, the ALJ determined that, despite Mr.
Washington's alleged disability due to a vision
impairment and musculoskeletal pain, “the record
documents very little medical treatment for either of these
conditions and does not support a finding that he is
precluded from a range of light work.” Id.
Elaborating, the ALJ considered Mr. Washington's
ophthalmologist records, including a March 2013 initial visit
with Dr. Ron Gutmark, where Mr. Washington complained of
blurred vision in his right eye, but denied the presence of
any pain and explained that he was wearing an eye patch. (Tr.
23, 257). Dr. Gutmark diagnosed Mr. Washington with vitreous
hemorrhage in the setting of sickle cell trait, with likely
sickle cell retinopathy, and advised Mr. Washington to keep
his head elevated while sleeping and to seek treatment from a
primary care physician. (Tr. 23, 258-59). The ALJ further
noted, however, that at a follow-up appointment with Dr.
Jessica Chang one week later, Mr. Washington admitted that,
despite being advised to keep his head elevated while
sleeping, he “usually ended up sleeping
vertically” and was not taking any medication. (Tr. 24,
263). Like Dr. Gutmark, Dr. Chang determined that Mr.
Washington had vitreous hemorrhage, advised him to sleep
upright, to seek blood testing regarding sickle cell disease,
and to return for a follow up appointment in two to three
weeks. (Tr. 24, 264). Despite Dr. Chang's advice, there
are no records of any subsequent ophthalmology appointments.
also thoroughly considered, and gave significant weight to,
the opinion of Mr. Washington's consultative
ophthalmology examiner, Dr. Allan Jensen, because it was
consistent with Mr. Washington's ophthalmology records
See (Tr. 24). Dr. Jensen again concluded that Mr.
Washington's decrease in vision in his right eye was the
result of a hemorrhage caused by sickle cell retinopathy.
(Tr. 24, 274-75). Again, Mr. Washington “denied [eye
pain and] any related treatment or use of eye drops,
explaining that he was simply waiting for the blood in his
eye to reabsorb.” (Tr. 24, 274). Dr. Jensen further
diagnosed Mr. Washington with right vitreous hemorrhage and
sickle cell and found a “moderate visual deficit”
because “he was temporarily uniocular[, ]  would miss
his depth perception[, ] and [would] have trouble seeing to
the right.” (Tr. 24, 275). Further, Dr. Jensen
concluded that Mr. Washington may require vitrectomy and
laser photocoagulation in the future. (Tr. 24, 275). In light
of these opinions and Mr. Washington's own complaints
regarding his eye, the ALJ stated that he “fully
accounted for [Mr. Washington's] right eye vision
problems in the [RFC] assessment[.]” (Tr. 24).
in considering Mr. Washington's complaints of
musculoskeletal pain, the ALJ cited to Mr. Washington's
Mercy Medical Center Emergency Room (“Mercy ER”)
visit and two primary care visits in 2014. (Tr. 24-25). The
Mercy ER records demonstrate, that despite Mr.
Washington's complaints of shoulder, knee, and back pain
attributable to an old sports injury, he: (1) exhibited no
acute distress; (2) underwent a shoulder examination, which
revealed normal results other than mild pain with range of
motion; (3) underwent a back examination, which revealed mild
tenderness, but no spasm, and normal ambulation, full
strength, intact sensation throughout, and a negative
straight leg raise. (Tr. 24-25, 279-80). Moreover, Mr.
Washington's primary care records also demonstrate that
he exhibited no acute distress, peripheral edema, or
musculoskeletal abnormalities and that his physical
assessment was noted to be “benign.” (Tr. 25,
300). Finally, though Mr. Washington claimed to have been
seeing a pain specialist, Dr. David Maine, the ALJ explained
that a 2016 statement from Dr. Maine's office cited
having no records related to Mr. Washington for the
time-period searched (March 2013 through May 19, 2016). (Tr.
25, 335). Despite the records supporting a finding that Mr.
Washington's physical assessment was benign, the ALJ,
nonetheless, considered Mr. Washington to have a severe pain
impairment and accounted for it in the exertional and
postural limitations of his RFC. (Tr. 25).
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. Washington's position, I am not
permitted to reweigh the evidence or to substitute my own
judgment for that of the ALJ. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In considering the entire
record, I find the ALJ's RFC determination was supported
by substantial evidence.
at step four, the ALJ found that Mr. Washington would not be
able to perform his past relevant work as a logistics
specialist/inventory clerk. (Tr. 26). Further, Mr.
Washington's work as an asbestos handler in the 1980s
[ECF No. 14] would have been too distant to count as past
relevant work. At step five, the ALJ posed a hypothetical
question to the VE to determine whether a person with Mr.
Washington's RFC would be able to find work. (Tr. 27,
59-62). The VE cited several jobs in response to that
hypothetical, including “cleaner, ” “ticket
seller, ” and “cafeteria attendant, ” and