United States District Court, D. Maryland
before this Court, by the parties' consent, are
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 14,
19). 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 January 3, 2013, alleging that disability began
December 1, 2001. (Tr. 15). This claim was denied on April
16, 2013 and, upon reconsideration, denied again on August
15, 2013. Id. Plaintiff's request for a hearing
was granted and the hearing was conducted on June 3, 2015 by
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Susan Maley.
Id. During the hearing, Plaintiff, through her
attorney, amended her alleged onset date to June 1, 2008.
Id. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled
under §§ 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security
Act on January 7, 2016. (Tr. 31). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on May 12, 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 12,
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 claimant is
disabled, but whether the ALJ's finding that she is not
disabled is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Plaintiff argues first that the ALJ erred in
the following ways: (1) determination of Plaintiff's
Residual Function Capacity (“RFC”) with regard to
Plaintiff's mental limitations; (2) failure to comply
with regulation regarding the submission of evidence; (3)
assessment of Plaintiff's ability to work a full,
eight-hour workday in light of Plaintiff's physical
limitations; and (4) improper reliance on the Vocational
Expert (“VE”)'s testimony. (ECF No. 14-1 at
11-19). Defendant asserts 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. 19 at 1).
assessing a claimant's RFC, the ALJ will consider all of
the claimant's medically determinable impairments of
which he is aware, including any medically determinable
impairments that are not “severe.” 20 C.F.R.
416.925(a)(2). The ALJ will consider any inconsistencies in
the evidence and the extent to which there are any conflicts
between a claimant's statements and the rest of the
evidence. 20 C.F.R. 404.1529(c)(4). A claimant's symptoms
will be determined to diminish her capacity for basic work
activities to the extent that they are consistent with the
objective medical evidence and other evidence. Id.
An ALJ's RFC determination should include a
“narrative discussion describing how the evidence
supports each conclusion citing specific medical facts . . .
and nonmedical evidence.” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184
(July 2, 1996). The ALJ should build “an accurate and
logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion.”
Petry v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No. 16-464,
2017 WL 680379, at *2 (D. Md. Feb. 21, 2017).
The ALJ's Findings
considered Plaintiff's medical records and the statements
of Plaintiff herself and Plaintiff's friends and family
when making the RFC determination. (Tr. 15-31). The ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff had the RFC to “perform light
work . . . except she was further limited as follows:
occasionally climbing ramps or stairs (never ladders, ropes
or scaffolds), balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and
crawling; carrying out simple tasks in 2-hour incredments;
having occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors,
but avoiding direct interaction with the general public; and
adapting to simple changes in a routine work setting.”
(Tr. 20). The ALJ found that the underlying physical and
mental impairments could reasonably be expected to produce
the claimant's alleged symptoms, but that Plaintiff's
statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting
effects of these symptoms were not entirely credible. (Tr.
concluded that Plaintiff's statements were not credible
because of the following pieces of evidence that contradicted
Plaintiff's testimony: (1) the ALJ's observations of
Plaintiff during her hearing did not support Plaintiff's
statements regarding the severity of her impairments; (2)
State agency medical consultants' opinions on
Plaintiff's functioning; (3) the opinion of Dr. Morrill;
and (4) the opinion of Dr. Hicks. (Tr. 27-29). Fundamentally,
the ALJ found that there was a “dearth of medical
evidence” for the relevant time period between June 1,
2008 and June 30, 2008. Id.
claimed, for instance, that her mental condition remained the
same since June 2008 and was still debilitating. (Tr. 26).
But Plaintiff's doctors, the ALJ notes, report that
Plaintiff has stabilized and has no problems with activities
of daily living, “in stark contrast to the
claimant's testimony that she can do practically
nothing.” Id. Then, Plaintiff herself admitted
that her moods “were stable at this time.”
Id. Similarly, although Plaintiff claimed to be
unable to follow conversations and will be forgetful during
the same, the ALJ found Plaintiff was able to stay on track
during the hearing, answered questions, and was even
“able to remember, in detail, her mental and physical
functioning around June 2008.” (Tr. 26-27). Although
the ALJ acknowledged that a hearing is a short time for
observation, the ALJ concluded that the lack of discomfort or
mental problems during the hearing was given some weight in
her ultimate decision. (Tr. 27).
also considered medical opinion evidence related to
Plaintiff's alleged symptoms and assigned weight to each
opinion. Id. The State agency consultants initially
said there was insufficient evidence to conclude anything
about Plaintiff's functioning. Id. After the
submission of additional evidence, however, the State agency
consultants opined that Plaintiff's mental impairments
were nonsevere because they caused only mild functional
limitations. Id. The ALJ gave this opinion little
weight because she found additional evidence to support
greater mental limitations. Id. The ALJ also
assigned little weight to Dr. Morrill's opinion because
it was inconsistent with the physician's own treatment
records. Id. As an example, the ALJ noted that Dr.
Morrill diagnosed joint pain in the pelvis and shoulder, but
there was no evidence to support that opinion. Id.
the ALJ evaluated the opinion of Dr. Hicks. Id. at
28. The ALJ explained that not only did Dr. Hicks refuse to
produce his actual treatment notes despite being served with
a subpoena requesting the notes, he also only provided the
ALJ with a “synthesis” that “does not
specifically describe [Plaintiff's] mental status
examination findings or functional limitations during ...