United States District Court, D. Maryland
Timothy J. Sullivan United States Magistrate Judge
18, 2017, Plaintiff Justin Beasley (“Mr.
Beasley”) petitioned this Court to review the Social
Security Administration's final decision to deny his
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. 14 & 15.) 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 Mr. Beasley's motion and grant
the Acting Commissioner's motion. This letter explains my
applications for DIB and SSI, Mr. Beasley alleged a
disability onset date of September 1, 2009. (Tr. 15.) His
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration.
(Id.) A hearing was held before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) on December 8, 2015, (Tr.
29-61), and the ALJ found that Mr. Beasley was not disabled
under the Social Security Act (Tr. 15-23). The Appeals
Council denied Mr. Beasley's request for review (Tr.
1-4), making the ALJ's decision the final, reviewable
decision of the agency.
evaluated Mr. Beasley'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 Mr. Beasley was not engaged in substantial gainful
activity, and had not been engaged in substantial gainful
activity since September 1, 2009. (Tr. 17.) At step two, the
ALJ found that Mr. Beasley suffered from the severe
impairment of Crohn's disease. (Tr. 17-18.) The
ALJ found that Mr. Beasley's mental impairment of
adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood was
non-severe. (Tr. 18.) At step three, the ALJ found that Mr.
Beasley'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. 19.) The ALJ determined that
Mr. Beasley retained the RFC to perform light work as defined
in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c), 416.967(c), except
that he is unable to stand for more than two hours in an
eight-hour workday. (Id.)
four, relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the
ALJ determined that Mr. Beasley was able to perform past
relevant work as a mortgage processor. (Tr. 22.) Therefore,
the ALJ found that Mr. Beasley was not disabled under the
Social Security Act. (Tr. 24.)
Beasley raises three arguments in this appeal: (1) the ALJ
did not provide a sufficient narrative discussion in
connection with the RFC assessment (ECF No. 14-1 at 6); (2)
the ALJ failed to follow the “slight abnormality”
standard in finding that Mr. Beasley's mental impairment
was non-severe (id. at 8); and (3) the ALJ failed to
give adequate weight to Mr. Beasley's treating
physician's opinion (id. at 9).
Beasley first argues that the ALJ “clearly failed to
satisfy her duty to include the function-by-function
assessment in her decision.” (ECF No. 14-1 at 7.) Mr.
Beasley argues that the ALJ “failed to include any
limitations related to bathroom breaks or time off task in
her RFC assessment, ” even after concluding that Mr.
Beasley had the severe impairment of Crohn's disease.
(Id.) The Acting Commissioner argues that the ALJ
made sufficient findings based on the record evidence to
support the RFC and to permit judicial review. (ECF No. 15-1
Security Ruling 96-8p instructs that an “RFC assessment
must first identify the individual's functional
limitations or restrictions and assess his or her
work-related abilities on a function-by-function basis,
including the functions” listed in the regulations. SSR
96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1 (S.S.A. July 2, 1996). Further,
the “RFC assessment must include a narrative discussion
describing how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing
specific medical facts (e.g., laboratory findings) and
nonmedical evidence (e.g., daily activities,
observations).” Id. at *7. An ALJ must
“both identify evidence that supports his conclusion
and build an accurate and logical bridge from [that] evidence
to his conclusion.” Woods v. Berryhill, 888
F.3d 686, 694 (4th Cir. 2018) (emphasis omitted).
adequately assessed Mr. Beasley's RFC based on the
medical evidence. The ALJ summarized Mr. Beasley's
medical records from August 2009 through November 2015
related to Crohn's disease and found that the condition
“is generally controlled when [he] is complaint”
with the treatment recommendations of his medical providers.
The ALJ concluded that Mr. Beasley's history of sporadic
treatment and medical noncompliance did not warrant any
greater limitation beyond a reduced range of light work. (Tr.
20.) The ALJ also considered and gave great weight to the
medical opinions of the State agency medical consultants that
“[Mr. Beasley] could perform a full range of light
work, but could only stand and walk for two hours in an
eight-hour workday.” (Id. at 21-22.) The
evidence summarized by the ALJ supports the finding that Mr.
Beasley can perform light work except he is unable to stand
for more than two hours in an eight hour workday. Because the
ALJ's narrative RFC discussion and relevant citations to
the record enable meaningful review of the RFC analysis, Mr.
Beasley's first argument is without merit.
Beasley's second argument is that the ALJ failed at step
two to follow the “slight abnormality” standard
in finding Mr. Beasley's mental impairment of adjustment
disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood was not
severe. (ECF No. 14-1 at 8-9.) Mr. Beasley contends that for
the ALJ to make the non-severe determination, “[the
ALJ] had to find that it was a slight abnormality (or a
combination of slight abnormalities) that has no more than a
minimal effect on the ability to do basic work
activities” which, “clearly does not fit
with” Mr. Beasley's GAF score of 50 as determined
by Dr. Evelyn Fielding, the State agency
psychologist. (ECF No. 14-1 at 9). The ALJ gave
“some weight” to the opinion of the State agency
psychologist “who assessed [Mr. Beasley] with a Global
Assessment of Functioning (GAF) of 50.” (Tr. 22.) Mr.
Beasley's sole argument is that the ALJ's assignment
of “some weight” to Dr. Fielding's opinion is
impossible to reconcile with the finding that he does not
have a severe mental impairment. (ECF No. 14-1 at 9.) The
Acting Commissioner argues that the ALJ did not err in giving
“some weight” to the State agency psychologist
and also finding that Mr. Beasley did not have a severe
mental impairment. (ECF No. 15-1 at 8-10.)
impairment is considered “severe” if it
significantly limits the claimant's ability to work. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1522(a), 416.922(a); SSR 16-3p, 2017
WL 5180304 (S.S.A. Oct. 25, 2017). Conversely, if an
impairment “is a slight abnormality or a combination of
slight abnormalities that causes no more than minimal
functional limitations, ” it is not considered to be
severe. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c).
review undertaken by the Court of the ALJ's decision is
confined to whether the decision is supported by substantial
evidence and whether correct legal standards were applied.
Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996).
The Court will not “re-weigh conflicting evidence, make
credibility determinations, or substitute [its]
judgment” for that of the ALJ. Id. While an
ALJ must consider “all of the relevant medical and
other evidence” in assessing a claimant's RFC, 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945, “there is no
rigid requirement that the ALJ specifically refer to every
piece of evidence in his decision.” Reid v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec'y, 769 F.3d 861, 865 (4th
Cir. 2014) (quoting Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206,
1211 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam)).
giving “some weight” to the State agency
psychologist's opinion, the ALJ found that Mr. Beasley
had “no difficulties getting along with others,
including those in authority, and his depression was . . .
‘largely situational.'” (Tr. 18.) The ALJ
noted that Mr. Beasley sought “only minimal mental
health treatment, [and] attended only two counseling sessions
in June 2015 before being discharged for failing to comply
with the attendance policy.” (Id.) The ALJ
also considered the findings by the State agency psychologist
that Mr. Beasley's memory was intact, that he could
follow multi-step instructions, and that he had normal
cognitive function. (Tr. 18, 456-457.) In addition, the ALJ
cited the opinion of Dr. Nicole Mannis, a State agency
psychological consultant, to support the finding that Mr.
Beasley's mental impairment is not severe. (Tr. 19.) Dr.
Mannis concluded that Mr. Beasley did not have a severe
mental impairment. (Tr. 90.) Finally, Mr. Beasley's heavy
reliance on the GAF score of 50 alone to support a severe
mental impairment is not persuasive. This Court has made it
clear that a GAF score itself is not determinative of a
claimant's disability. Jenkins v. Comm'r. Soc.
Sec. Admin., No. SAG-13-1967, 2014 WL 1870845, at *3 n.1
(D. Md. May 5, 2014); Walters v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., No. SAG-13-1777, 2014 ...