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 Mr.
Flowers's reply. [ECF Nos. 9, 10, 11]. 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 Agency 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
both motions be denied, that the SSA's decision be
reversed in part, and that the case be remanded to the SSA
for further analysis.
Flowers filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) on February 5, 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of September 20, 2012. (Tr. 356-66).
His applications were denied initially on May 8, 2013, and on
reconsideration on December 3, 2013. (Tr. 83-132, 139-42). An
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held hearings on
March 11, 2016 and September 9, 2016, at which Mr. Flowers
was represented by counsel. (Tr. 39-72, 73-82). Following the
hearings, the ALJ determined that Mr. Flowers was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during
the relevant time frame. (Tr. 18-38). The Appeals Council
denied Mr. Flowers's request for review, (Tr. 1-7), so
the ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable
decision of the SSA.
found that Mr. Flowers suffered from the severe impairments
of bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder. (Tr. 23).
Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Mr.
Flowers retained the residual functional capacity
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant is
limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks but not at
production rate pace. He can have frequent interaction with
supervisors and occasional interaction with coworkers and the
public. He is able to make simple decisions frequently, but
never complex decisions. He is limited to only simple work
related decisions. He is limited to simple workplace changes.
He can perform work that does not require the satisfaction of
(Tr. 25-26). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr.
Flowers could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in
the national economy. (Tr. 30-31). Accordingly, the ALJ
concluded that Mr. Flowers was not disabled. (Tr. 31).
Flowers disagrees. He raises three primary arguments on
appeal: (1) that the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical
opinion evidence; (2) that the ALJ erred in assessing Mr.
Flowers's subjective assertions of disability,
particularly in considering his non-compliance with
prescribed medications; and (3) that the ALJ failed to
reconcile an inconsistency between the testimony of the VE
and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”). Because I agree that the ALJ did not
adequately analyze the issue of Mr. Flowers's
non-compliance with treatment, I recommend that the case be
remanded to the SSA for additional explanation. In so
recommending, I express no opinion as to whether the
SSA's ultimate decision that Mr. Flowers was not entitled
to benefits was correct.
Security Ruling (“SSR”) 16-3p states, in relevant
[I]f the individual fails to follow prescribed treatment that
might improve symptoms, we may find the alleged intensity and
persistence of an individual's symptoms are inconsistent
with the overall evidence of record. We will not find an
individual's symptoms inconsistent with the evidence in
the record on this basis without considering possible reasons
he or she may not comply with treatment or seek treatment
consistent with the degree of his or her complaints. We may
need to contact the individual regarding the lack of
treatment or, at an administrative
proceeding, ask why he or she has not complied with or sought
treatment in a manner consistent with his or her complaints.
When we consider the individual's treatment history, we
may consider (but are not limited to) one or more of the
. . . .
• Due to various limitations (such as language or mental
limitations, an individual may not understand the appropriate
treatment for or the need for consistent treatment of his or
• Due to a mental impairment (for example, individuals
with mental impairments that affect judgment, reality
testing, or orientation), an individual may not be aware that
he or she has a disorder that requires treatment.
. . . .
We will explain how we considered the individual's
reasons in our evaluation of the ...