United States District Court, D. Maryland
CAROL B. TOLLER
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY
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 the parties' cross-dispositive motions, and
Ms. Toller's reply. [ECF Nos. 14, 15, 16]. I find that no
hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.
2016). This Court must uphold the decision of the Social
Security Administration (“SSA”) 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
both motions be denied, that the SSA's decision be
reversed in part, and that the case be remanded to the SSA
for further analysis.
Toller filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
and Supplemental Security Income in April, 2014, alleging a
disability onset of April 22, 2014. (Tr. 222-34). Her
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration.
(Tr. 129-33, 142-45). An Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing on November 3, 2016. (Tr.
37-76). Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Toller was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 15-31). The
Appeals Council denied Ms. Toller's request for review,
(Tr. 1-6), so the ALJ's decision constitutes the final,
reviewable decision of the SSA.
found that Ms. Toller suffered from the severe impairments of
“left ankle dysfunction status-post surgeries,
degenerative disc disease, and depression.” (Tr. 17).
Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms. Toller
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
perform a range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), except occasional climbing
stairs/ramps, stooping, kneeling, balancing, and crouching;
never crawling or climbing ladders/ropes/scaffolds; avoiding
even moderate exposure to hazards including dangerous moving
machinery, uneven terrain, and unprotected heights; no
pushing or pulling with the left lower extremity; and she can
perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and have
superficial contact with the public.
(Tr. 20). After considering testimony from a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms. Toller
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy, and that, therefore, she was not disabled.
Toller raises a number of arguments on appeal, including: (1)
that the ALJ did not adequately consider her edema and her
resulting need to elevate her leg; (2) that the ALJ did not
afford adequate weight to the opinions of her treating
physicians; and (3) that the ALJ's opinion goes against
broad considerations of public policy, thus warranting remand
under 20 C.F.R. § 404.970(a)(4). Pl. Mot. 7-18. Although
not all of Ms. Toller's arguments are meritorious, I
concur that the ALJ did not adequately analyze Ms.
Toller's edema and need to elevate her leg during the
workday, particularly considering the opinion of her longtime
treating physician, Dr. Pabla. I therefore recommend remand.
In so recommending, I express no opinion as to whether the
ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Ms. Toller is not entitled
to benefits is correct.
case, Ms. Toller claimed, in part, that she was disabled as a
result of edema and swelling in her left ankle. Her longtime
treating physician, Dr. Pabla, completed a residual
functional capacity form in 2014 detailing their treating
relationship, and opining that Ms. Toller was unable to stand
or sit upright for six to eight hours due to “pain,
swelling, ” and that she would need to lie down
“as needed to elevate” her left leg. (Tr.
386-91). Pursuant to the regulations:
Because symptoms, such as pain, are subjective and difficult
to quantify, any symptom-related functional limitations and
restrictions that your medical sources or nonmedical sources
report, which can reasonably be accepted as consistent with
the objective medical evidence and other evidence, will be
taken into account as explained in [20 C.F.R. §
404.1529(c)(4) and § 416.929(c)(4)] in reaching a
conclusion as to whether you are disabled.
§§ 404.1529(c)(3), 416.929(c)(3). The Fourth
Circuit has further summarized that:
[T]reating physicians are given “more weight . . .
since these sources are likely to be the medical
professionals most able to provide a detailed, longitudinal
picture of your medical impairment(s) and may bring a unique
perspective to the medical evidence that cannot be obtained
from the objective medical findings alone[.]” [20
C.F.R.] §§ 404.1527(c)(2), 416.927(c)(2).
“When the treating source has seen you a number of
times and long enough to have obtained a longitudinal picture
of your impairment, we will give the medical source's
medical opinion more weight than we would give it if it were
from a nontreating source.” Id. §§
404.1527(c)(2)(i), 416.927(c)(2)(i). Accordingly, the ALJ is
required to give “controlling weight” to opinions
proffered by a claimant's treating physicians so long as
the opinion is “well-supported by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the
claimant's] case record[.]” Id.
§§ 404.1527(c)(2), 416.927(c)(2).
Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 867 (4th Cir.
case, the ALJ summarized Dr. Pabla's opinion form. (Tr.
25). Following the summary, the ALJ provided the following
The undersigned notes that, while Dr. Pabla is a treating
physician with a longitudinal treatment relationship with the
claimant, his opinion is not entirely supported by the
objective clinical findings over time. Nonetheless, the
undersigned agrees with limiting the claimant to modified
sedentary work, with additional non-exertional limitations as
described in the above residual functional capacity, which