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. 4]. I have
considered both parties' motions for summary judgment and
the reply filed by Ms. Hall, who proceeds pro se.
[ECF Nos. 15, 16, 18]. I find that no hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 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. 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 Social
Security Administration's (“SSA's”)
motion be granted and that the SSA's judgment be affirmed
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Hall protectively filed applications for Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”) in September, 2014, alleging an
onset date of August 5, 2009. (Tr. 175-81). Ms. Hall later
amended her alleged onset date to December 15, 2009. (Tr.
40). Her applications were denied initially, and her DIB
application was denied on reconsideration. (Tr. 67-77,
79-97, 101-12, 114-15). An Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing on January 25, 2017, at
which Ms. Hall was represented by counsel. (Tr. 36-66).
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms. Hall was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 17-31). The Appeals
Council denied Ms. Hall's request for review, (Tr. 1-6),
so the ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable
decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Hall suffered from the severe impairments of
“bilateral Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS); degenerative
changes of the cervical and lumbosacral spine; Bipolar
Disorder; and Anxiety Disorder.” (Tr. 20). Despite
these impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms. Hall retained
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with
frequent operation of hand controls; no climbing of ladders,
ropes or scaffolds; no crawling; no working at unprotected
heights; tasks that are simple, routine and repetitive; and
no more than simple work related decisions.
(Tr. 24). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms. Hall
could not perform any past relevant work, but could perform
other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy, including the jobs of cashier, sales attendant, and
housekeeping cleaner. (Tr. 29-30). Therefore, the ALJ
concluded Ms. Hall was not disabled. (Tr. 30-31).
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 at all five steps
of the sequential evaluation. At step one, the ALJ found in
Ms. Hall's favor that she had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity during the period from her amended alleged
onset date of December 15, 2009, through her date last
insured of December 31, 2014. (Tr. 19). At step two, the ALJ
found the severe impairments listed above. (Tr. 20). The ALJ
also assessed Ms. Hall's left shoulder pain, sleep apnea,
overactive bladder, vision disturbance and migraine
headaches, and fibromyalgia to be either not medically
determined (due to a lack of formal diagnosis) or non-severe.
(Tr. 20-21). A thorough review of the record does not
demonstrate any significant functional limitations relating
to those conditions during the relevant time frame (and
meeting the required 12-month duration). Accordingly, I find
no error in the ALJ's step two analysis.
three, the ALJ assessed whether any listings were met or
equaled. (Tr. 21-23). The ALJ specifically considered
Listings 1.02 and 1.04 as they pertained to Ms. Hall's
carpal tunnel syndrome and back impairments, but cited to
evidence in the record supporting that specific criteria of
those listings had not been met. (Tr. 21). The ALJ also
appropriately applied the special technique for evaluation of
the listings relating to mental impairments, and considered
Listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.15. Each of those listings
applies the same framework relating to functional
limitations. The ALJ provided record citations to support his
conclusions that Ms. Hall had “mild” difficulty
understanding, remembering, and applying information,
interacting with others, and adapting and managing oneself,
and “moderate” limitations maintaining
concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 22-23). I find no
error in the ALJ's thorough listings analysis.
four, the ALJ determined Ms. Hall's RFC. The function of
this Court is not to review Ms. Hall's claims de
novo or to reweigh the evidence of record. See Smith
v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986) (citing
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and Blalock v. Richardson,
483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972)). Rather, this Court is to
determine whether, upon review of the whole record, the
SSA's decision is supported by substantial evidence and a
proper application of the law. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); Coffman, 829 F.2d
at 517; see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Although
there might also be evidence in the record from which a
contrary conclusion could be drawn, applying that deferential
standard to the evidence in this case, the ALJ's
conclusions must be affirmed.
provided a summary of Ms. Hall's background from her
testimony, her written submissions, and her medical records.
(Tr. 24-28). The summary included a comprehensive discussion
of the medical evidence derived from the treatment notes
recorded by Ms. Hall's treating and examining doctors.
(Tr. 25-27). The ALJ noted that those records reflected Ms.
Hall's history of refusing to follow medical advice, both
as to her psychiatric care and as to recommendations for
carpal tunnel surgery. Id. Ms. Hall did not engage
in counseling as recommended repeatedly, and did not take her
medications as prescribed. (Tr. 26). Finally, the ALJ
evaluated and assigned weight to the opinions of the State
agency physicians, Ms. Hall's hand surgeon, and the
various Global Assessment of Function (“GAF”)
scores in the record. (Tr. 28-29). The ALJ ultimately
concluded that Ms. Hall had more limitations than believed by
the State agency physicians, but also concluded that the
opinions from Ms. Hall's hand surgeon were only entitled
to “little weight, ” as a result of her ability
to work and her noncompliance with medical recommendations.
(Tr. 28). This Court is not permitted to reweigh the
evidence. See Smith, 795 F.2d at 345. The opinions
of the State agency physicians, in addition to the supporting
treatment records and Ms. Hall's ability to perform work
on a part-time basis and to manage her household, provide
substantial evidence to support the ALJ's conclusion.
step four, the ALJ concluded, based on the testimony of the
vocational expert, that Ms. Hall could not perform her past,
semi-skilled relevant work. (Tr. 29). However, the ALJ
conducted an inquiry under step five of the sequential
evaluation and found other jobs that Ms. Hall could perform.
(Tr. 29-30). In response to a hypothetical posed by the ALJ,
which matched the RFC the ALJ later determined, the VE cited
several jobs, including unskilled cashier, sales attendant,
and housekeeper cleaner. (Tr. 30). The ALJ relied on that VE
testimony in his opinion. Id. The ALJ's step
five determination, therefore, was supported by substantial
I note that Ms. Hall submitted a letter containing
information about her medical and personal history, and
attaching a “problems report” from Medstar
Franklin Square Medical Center, dated September 4, 2014, that
was not part of the administrative record considered by the
ALJ. In the context of this appeal, this Court cannot
consider evidence that was not before the Commissioner,
except under very limited circumstances where the evidence is
both new and material. See Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d
635, 638, n.5 (4th Cir. 1996). To establish that the evidence
was material, Ms. Hall would have to show that the evidence
might reasonably have changed the decision of the
Commissioner. See Wilkins v. Sec'y, Dep't of
Health and Human Servs., 953 F.2d 93, 96 (4th Cir.
1991); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Here, the “problems
report” essentially summarizes other medical records
that were part of the case file, including the repeated
suggestions from the doctor that Ms. Hall take appropriate
psychiatric medications and undergo counseling, and the notes
confirming that Ms. Hall declined a surgical referral or
injections for her carpal tunnel syndrome. Ms. Hall stated
that she found the “problems report” on July 26,
2018. Even assuming that her delay in locating the report
constitutes “good cause” for her failure to
present that evidence in the prior proceeding, see
42 U.S.C. § ...