United States District Court, D. Maryland
Social Security Administration 
MARK COULSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
March 17, 2018, Plaintiff petitioned this Court to review the
Social Security Administration's final decision to deny
his claim for Supplemental Security Income. (ECF No. 1). I
have considered the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. (ECF Nos. 16, 17). I find that no hearing is
necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). This Court must
uphold the decision of the Agency if it is supported by
substantial evidence and correct legal standards were
employed. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Under that
standard, I will deny both motions, reverse the judgment of
the Social Security Administration, and remand the case to
the Social Security Administration for further analysis
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This
letter explains my rationale.
filed a claim for benefits on June 10, 2014, alleging
disability beginning on April 1, 2013. (Tr. 153-54). His
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration following
appeal. (Tr. 89-91, 97-100). Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Karen Robinson held a hearing on March 7,
2017. (Tr. 35-65). Following that hearing, on May 19, 2017,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr.
13-26). The Appeals Council denied his request for review,
making the ALJ's decision the final, reviewable decision
of the Agency. (Tr. 1-6).
arriving at the decision to deny Plaintiff's claim, the
ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation of
disability set forth in the Secretary's regulations. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920. “To summarize, the ALJ asks at
step one whether the claimant has been working; at step two,
whether the claimant's medical impairments meet the
regulations' severity and duration requirements; at step
three, whether the medical impairments meet or equal an
impairment listed in the regulations; at step four, whether
the claimant can perform her past work given the limitations
caused by her medical impairments; and at step five, whether
the claimant can perform other work.” Mascio v.
Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015). If the
first three steps do not yield a conclusive determination,
the ALJ then assesses the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), “which is ‘the
most' the claimant ‘can still do despite'
physical and mental limitations that affect her ability to
work, ” by considering all of the claimant's
medically determinable impairments regardless of severity.
Id. at 635 (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1)).
The claimant bears the burden of proof through the first four
steps of the sequential evaluation. If he makes the requisite
showing, the burden shifts to the Social Security
Administration at step five to prove “that the claimant
can perform other work that ‘exists in significant
numbers in the national economy,' considering the
claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education,
and work experience.” Lewis v. Berryhill, 858
F.3d 858, 862 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal citations omitted).
case, at step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in “substantial gainful activity” between
April 1, 2013 and June 30, 2015. (Tr. 18). At step two, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff's “status post
reconstructive surgery of the left ankle and left wrist; left
knee impairment; degenerative disc disease of the cervical
and lumbar spine; left peroneal neuropathy and mild lumbar
radiculopathy; and substance addiction disorder”
constitute severe impairments under the relevant regulations.
(Tr. 18-19). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does
not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meet or medically equal the severity of any of the listed
impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (Tr. 19-20). Then, “[a]fter careful
consideration of the entire record, ” the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform:
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), except he can
occasionally climb ramps/stairs/ladders/ropes/scaffolds,
occasionally push/pull with the left lower extremity, and
frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and
push/pull with the dominant left upper extremity.
20-24). Finally, at step four, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work, but in
considering age, education, work experience, and RFC,
“there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in
the national economy that the claimant could have
performed.” (Tr. 24-25).
Court reviews an ALJ's decision to ensure that the
ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and
were reached through application of correct legal standards.
Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir.
2012). “Substantial evidence means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion, ” which “consists of more
than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be less than a
preponderance.” Id. (internal citations and
quotations omitted). In accordance with this standard, the
Court does not “undertake to reweigh conflicting
evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute
[its] judgment for that of the ALJ.” Johnson v.
Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (internal
citations and quotations omitted). Instead, “[w]here
conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to
whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that
decision falls on the ALJ.” Id.
appeals on the basis that the ALJ's decision was made
without substantial evidence because it does not weigh or
acknowledge the opinions of his treating physician Dr.
Okigbo. (ECF No. 16). Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the
ALJ did not specifically mention, evaluate, or assign weight
to the medical opinions Dr. Okigbo as required by 20 CFR
404.1527(c). Lastly, Plaintiff argues that these failures
were not harmless in that the opinions, if given the proper
weight, could have been outcome determinative. Defendant
counters that the ALJ's determinations are supported by
substantial evidence, Dr. Okigbo's opinions are
unsupported by acceptable clinical techniques, and any error
was harmless. (ECF No. 17-1).
the Social Security regulations, the opinions of treating
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.” Lewis v. Berryhill,
858 F.3d 858, 867 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(2) and § 416.927(c)(2). 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. (internal
quotations omitted). If a treating physician's medical
opinion is not assigned controlling weight, however, in
determining the weight to give the opinion, the ALJ should
consider: (1) the length of the treatment relationship and
its nature and extent; (2) the supportability of the opinion;
(3) the opinion's consistency with the record as a whole;
(4) whether the source is a specialist; and (5) any other
factors that tend to support or contradict the opinion. 20
C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2).
here failed to adequately explain why she did not attribute
any weight, yet alone “controlling weight” to Dr.
Okigbo's opinions as required by 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(2) and § 416.927(c)(2). While the ALJ cites
to Dr. Okigbo's findings and opinions from 2013 and 2014,
it appears to have been done to build a foundation for
evaluating Plaintiff's physical condition and subsequent
medical opinions. (ECF No. 17-1 and Tr. 21). No. discussions
as to Dr. Okigbo's opinion or the weight given to the
opinion follows. Moreover, while Dr. Okigbo's findings
are cited, the determination makes no reference to the
October 3, 2013 report what states that Plaintiff was only
capable of standing for 30 minutes, walking for 10 minutes,
and reaching for 20 minutes, could lift/carry less than 10
pounds, and could not participate in work, school, or
training. (Tr. 450-51).
any meaningful analysis of Dr. Okigbo's opinions or the
factors relevant to determining if a weight, besides
controlling, is appropriate for the opinions, this Court
cannot conclude that the errors here were harmless. Thus, the
Court is persuaded by Plaintiff's argument and remands
the case for further consideration and explanation by the
ALJ. In remanding for additional explanation, I express no
opinion as to whether the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff
is not entitled to benefits is correct.
reasons set forth herein, the cross motions for summary
judgment, (ECF Nos. 16, 17), are DENIED, the Social Security
Administration's judgment is REVERSED, and the case is
REMANDED in ...