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). [ECF No. 5]. I have
considered the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) motion for summary judgment. [ECF
No. 20]. Although Ms. Evans, who appears pro se,
sought and received an extension of time to respond to the
motion, (ECF No. 22), she did not file a response by the
extended deadline. I find that no hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). This Court must
uphold the decision of the 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 the
SSA's motion be granted, and that the SSA's judgment
be affirmed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
Evans filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) on May 6, 2013, alleging disability
beginning on November 26, 2012. (Tr. 158-61). Her date last
insured was December 31, 2012, meaning that she had to
establish disability within roughly a one-month window to
qualify for benefits. (Tr. 31, 163). Her application was
denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 104-07,
109-10). After an initial hearing was postponed to permit Ms.
Evans to retain counsel, (Tr. 81-90), an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on September 3,
2015. (Tr. 39-80). Following the hearing, the ALJ determined
that Ms. Evans had not established a medically determinable
impairment during the relevant one-month time frame. (Tr.
31-34). The Appeals Council denied Ms. Evans's request
for review, (Tr. 1-5), so the ALJ's decision constitutes
the final, reviewable decision of the Agency. Ms. Evans filed
the instant lawsuit on January 27, 2017, challenging the
SSA's determination. [ECF No. 1].
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 SSA'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 in the sequential
evaluation. The ALJ ruled in Ms. Evans's favor at step
one, and determined that she did not engage in substantial
gainful activity between her alleged onset date and her date
last insured. (Tr. 33); see 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(i). At step two, however, the ALJ concluded
that, “[t]hrough the date last insured, there were no
medical signs or laboratory findings to substantiate the
existence of a medically determinable impairment.” (Tr.
33) The ALJ cited SSR 96-4p, which, at the time of Ms.
Evans's claim, stated, “No symptom or combination
of symptoms can be the basis for a finding of disability, no
matter how genuine the individual's complaints may appear
to be, unless there are medical signs and laboratory findings
demonstrating the existence of a medically determinable
physical or mental impairment.” SSR 96-4P, 1996 WL
374187, at *1 (S.S.A. July 2, 1996) The claimant bears the
burden of proof at the first four steps of the sequential
evaluation, including the step two requirement of
demonstrating a medically determinable impairment. See
Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995)
(noting that the burden rests with the claimant, through the
first four steps of the sequential evaluation, to present
evidence establishing disability during the relevant period).
review of the limited medical record in this case
substantiates the ALJ's conclusion. There are no medical
records during the relevant one-month window. There are no
medical records closely pre-dating, or within the weeks
immediately following, the relevant window. There is a short
statement from a one-time examining physician, Dr. Paul Snow,
who did not see Ms. Evans until almost six months after her
date last insured, and did not provide any laboratory
findings to support his assertions. (Tr. 251). Ms.
Evans's subsequent treatment records do not begin until
much later in 2013. (Tr. 252-279). The only earlier records
discussing Ms. Evans's mental health impairments
significantly pre-date (by several years) the relevant window
in this case. (Tr. 280-85).
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). Due to the absence of medical
records to establish a medically determinable impairment in
November or December of 2012, the ALJ's conclusion must
reasons set forth above, I respectfully recommend that:
1. the Court GRANT Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment [ECF No. 20];
2. the Court AFFIRM the SSA's judgment pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); and
3. the Court close this case.
objections to this Report and Recommendations must be served
and filed within fourteen (14) days, pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 72(b) and Local Rule 301.5(b).