United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
BENJAMIN B. PREVAS SPECIAL ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY
before this Court, by the parties' consent, are
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 11,
12). The Court must uphold the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”)'s decision if it is supported by
substantial evidence and if the Agency employed proper legal
standards. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c)(3) (2016); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589
(4th Cir. 1996). The substantial evidence rule
“consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but
may be somewhat less than a preponderance.”
Craig, 76 F.3d at 589. This Court shall not
“re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute [its] judgment” for that
of the SSA. Id. Upon review of the pleadings and the
record, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. L.R.
105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's
Motion is DENIED and Defendant's Motion is GRANTED. I am
affirming the SSA's judgment.
filed a Title II Application for Disability Insurance
Benefits on December 24, 2015, alleging that disability began
October 1, 2014. (Tr. 17). This claim was denied on March 17,
2016 and upon reconsideration, denied again on May 26, 2016.
Id. Plaintiff's request for a hearing was
granted and the hearing was conducted on December 20, 2016 by
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Andrew Emerson.
Id. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled
under §§ 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security
Act on February 9, 2017. (Tr. 34). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on April 20, 2017. (Tr.
1-3). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff has a
right of review after the final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security made after a hearing to which she was a
party and thus filed her claim in this Court on June 20,
2017. (ECF No. 1). The ALJ's opinion became the
final and reviewable decision of the SSA. (Tr. 2).
issue before this Court is not whether the Plaintiff is
disabled, but whether the ALJ's finding that she is not
disabled is supported by substantial evidence.
Craig, 76 F.3d at 589; 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Plaintiff argues first that the ALJ erred in his evaluation
of the medical evidence, his assessment of the medical
impairment listings, Plaintiff's Residual Function
Capacity (“RFC”), exertional and non-exertional
limitations, and Plaintiff's credibility. (ECF No. 11 at
1). Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not
meaningfully consider the vocational evidence and erred in
his evaluation of the vocational expert opinion evidence.
Id. Defendant counters that there is no genuine
issue as to any material fact and that the SSA's final
decision is supported by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 12 at
Medical Evidence and Listings
contends that the determination that the Plaintiff is not
disabled is unsupported by substantial evidence because the
ALJ failed to note certain medical impairments as severe at
Step 2. (ECF No. 11 at 9). If all of the evidence, including
medical records and opinions, that the ALJ receives is
consistent, then there is sufficient evidence for the ALJ to
determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520b(a). The ALJ will then go through the five-step
sequential evaluation process (“SEP”) to
determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
404.1520(a)(4). If the ALJ finds that a claimant is
disabled or not disabled at a step, he can make his
determination or decision and not go on to the next step.
Id. If the ALJ cannot find that claimant is disabled
or not disabled at a step, he will proceed to the next step.
Id. At step 2 of the SEP, the ALJ will determine the
medical severity of the claimant's impairment(s). 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant does not
have a severe medically determinable physical or mental
impairment that meets the at least twelve month long duration
requirement in § 404.1509, or a combination of
impairments that are severe and meet the duration
requirement, the ALJ will find that a claimant is not
disabled. Id.; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509. The
regulations define an impairment as “not severe”
when it is unlikely to result in disability, even when the
claimant's age, education, and experience are taken into
account. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521.
The ALJ's Findings
Mental Impairments When a claimant alleges mental
impairments, the ALJ will look at the “paragraph B
criteria” to assess how an alleged mental disorder
limits the claimant's functioning. 20 C.F.R. Part 404
Subpart P. App. 1, Part A2 § 12.00 2(b). The criteria
are: (1) understanding, remembering, or applying information;
(2) interacting with others; (3) concentrating, persisting,
or maintaining pace; and (4) adapting or managing oneself
(“paragraph B criteria). Id. To satisfy the
paragraph B criteria, claimant's mental disorder(s) must
result in an “extreme” limitation of one, or
“marked” limitation of two of the four areas of
mental functioning. Id. Although the claimant
asserts otherwise, the ALJ properly considered the paragraph
B criteria. (Tr. 21).
the ALJ found that Plaintiff's ability to understand,
remember, and apply information was only mildly limited, as
Plaintiff's medical records and testimony show that
although she suffered from PTSD related symptoms including
depression, anxiety, and insomnia, the Plaintiff was taking
medication and participating in counseling. (Tr. 21, 74-75).
Second, the ALJ also found that the Plaintiff's ability
to take an online MBA course indicated that she was only
somewhat limited in her ability to understand, remember, and
apply information. (Tr. 21, 71). Third, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had only a mild limitation in the area of
interacting with others, as evidenced by her trips out of
state to meet her significant other and attend events, and
her socialization with childhood and military friends (Tr.
21-22, 54-58). Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
experienced a mild limitation in concentrating, persisting,
or maintaining pace due to Plaintiff's mental status
examinations indicating that her memory and concentration are
generally within normal limits, and that she is able to
perform daily tasks and chores, drive, shop, and attend
school. (Tr. 22, 47-50, 53-58). Finally, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff has no limitation in adapting or managing herself,
as shown by Plaintiff's testimony regarding her general
schedule. (Tr. 22, 68-71).
physical impairments, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to
find substantial evidence that the Plaintiff's idiopathic
peripheral autonomic tenosynovitis, connective tissue
disorder, and labral tear were not severe. (ECF No. 11 at 9).
Without objective medical evidence of a medically
determinable impairment that could cause the symptom(s) a
claimant alleged, an ALJ may conclude that a claimant was not
limited by a severe impairment. Johnson v. Barnhart,
434 F.3d 650, 658 (4th Cir. 2005) (finding that without
objective medical evidence of a medically determinable
impairment that could cause the symptoms that the Plaintiff
suffers in her hands, the ALJ properly concluded that Johnson
was not limited by a severe hand impairment). In this case,
the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's idiopathic peripheral
autonomic tenosynovitis was not a medically determinable