United States District Court, D. Maryland
Timothy J. Sullivan United States Magistrate Judge
2, 2017, Plaintiff Dyana Harkins (“Ms. Harkins”)
petitioned this Court to review the Social Security
Administration's final decision to deny her claims for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and
supplemental security income (“SSI”). (ECF No.
1.) The parties have filed cross-motions for summary
judgment. (ECF Nos. 15 & 20.) These motions have been
referred to the undersigned with the parties' consent
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule
I find that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R.
105.6. This Court must uphold the decision of the agency if
it is supported by substantial evidence and if the agency
employed the proper legal standards. 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g), 1383(c)(3); Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632,
634 (4th Cir. 2015). Following its review, this Court may
affirm, modify, or reverse the Acting Commissioner, with or
without a remand. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89 (1991). Under
that standard, I will deny both motions and remand the case
for further proceedings. This letter explains my rationale.
applications for DIB and SSI, Ms. Harkins alleged a
disability onset date of August 26, 2012. (Tr. 14.) Her
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration.
(Id.) A hearing was held before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) on October 3, 2016, (Tr.
31-68), and on December 14, 2016, the ALJ found that Ms.
Harkins was not disabled under the Social Security Act (Tr.
18-29). The Appeals Council denied Ms. Harkins's request
for review (Tr. 1-5), making the ALJ's decision the
final, reviewable decision of the agency.
evaluated Ms. Harkins's claim for benefits using the
five-step sequential evaluation process set forth in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, the ALJ
found that Ms. Harkins was not engaged in substantial gainful
activity, and had not been engaged in substantial gainful
activity since August 26, 2012. (Tr. 16.) At step two, the
ALJ found that Ms. Harkins suffered from the following severe
impairments: cardiomyopathy, diabetes mellitus, type II, and
coronary artery disease. (Tr. 16.) At step three,
the ALJ found that Ms. Harkins's impairments, separately
and in combination, failed to meet or equal in severity any
listed impairment as set forth in 20 C.F.R., Chapter III, Pt.
404, Subpart P, App. 1 (“Listings”). (Tr. 18.)
The ALJ determined that Ms. Harkins retained the RFC
to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except no climbing of ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; occasional climbing of stairs or ramps; occasional
stooping, crouching, crawling or kneeling; and no exposure to
hazards such as unprotected heights.
four, relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the
ALJ determined that Ms. Harkins was able to perform past
relevant work as a medical records technician. (Tr. 24.)
Therefore, the ALJ found that Ms. Harkins was not disabled
under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 25.)
Harkins raises three arguments in this appeal. First, she
argues that the ALJ did not evaluate a statement by her
primary care physician, Dr. Ravi Passi. (ECF No. 15-1 at
5-6.) Second, she argues that the ALJ did not properly
evaluate the opinions of the State agency physicians.
(Id. at 6-7.) Third, she argues that the ALJ did not
properly evaluate the opinion of her treating physician, Dr.
Dennis Friedman. (Id. at 8.) I will address these
arguments in turn.
Harkins first argues that the ALJ failed to consider an
October 27, 2014, treatment note from her primary care
physician, Dr. Ravi Passi. (Id. at 5.) This
treatment note (Tr. 538-39) documents Ms. Harkins's
follow up visit with Dr. Passi after her right fifth toe
amputation. In the “Subjective” portion of
the treatment note, Dr. Passi notes that Ms. Harkins
requested “documentation saying she should not be on
her feet for long periods of time, ” and that she has a
history of diabetic foot ulcer and toe amputation. (Tr. 538.)
In the “Plan” portion of the note, Dr. Passi
notes that he completed a form for Ms. Harkins and that she
“should not stand for long periods of time secondary
to toe amputation.” (Tr. 539.)
the ALJ did not discuss Dr. Passi's treatment note, the
contents of the note are not inconsistent with the ALJ's
RFC assessment. First, the note was written less than four
months after Ms. Haskins's fifth right toe amputation. As
the ALJ noted in her decision, any limitations that Ms.
Haskins experienced in connection with her toe amputation
were “acute in nature, and resolved within twelve
months of onset.” (Tr. 17.) Notably, Dr. Passi did not
indicate in the note how long the standing limitation should
apply. Second, the note does not define what “long
periods of time” are, and casts no light on whether Ms.
Harkins was able to stand for six hours during an eight-hour
workday at the relevant time. For these reasons, Ms.
Harkins's first argument is without merit.
Harkins's second argument is that the ALJ failed to
properly evaluate the opinions of the State agency
consultants. (ECF No. 15-1 at 6-7.) Specifically, she argues
that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinions of the State
agency physicians (that Ms. Harkins was unable to stand for
more than two hours in an eight-hour workday) without
providing a rationale. (Tr. 73, 83, 97, 108.) Similarly, in
her third argument, Ms. Harkins argues that the ALJ did not
properly evaluate the medical opinions of her treating
physician, Dr. Dennis Friedman. (ECF No. 15-1 at 7-13.)
Ms. Harkins's claims were filed before March 27, 2017,
the standards for evaluating medical opinion evidence are set
forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527, 416.927. See
Brown v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 873 F.3d 251, 255
(4th Cir. 2017). ALJs must “evaluate every medical
opinion” presented to them, “regardless of its
source.” Id. With regard to the medical
opinions of treating physicians, the regulations provide:
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 ...