United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
February 12, 2018, Plaintiff Jevonda P. petitioned this Court
to review the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) final decision to deny her claims
for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income. ECF 1. I have considered the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF 17, 18. I find that
no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.
2018). This Court must uphold the decision of the Agency 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); Craig v. Chater, 76
F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Under that standard, I will
deny Plaintiff's motion, grant the SSA's motion, and
affirm the SSA's judgment pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). This letter explains my rationale.
filed her claims for benefits on April 9, 2014, alleging a
disability onset date of November 5, 2012. Tr. 182-94. Her
claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr.
119-23, 129-32. A hearing was held on December 5, 2016,
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Tr.
35-66. Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act during the relevant time frame. Tr. 15-34. The
Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's
request for review, Tr. 1-6, so the ALJ's decision
constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of
fibromyalgia, knee contusions, and congestive heart failure.
Tr. 21. Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) except she is limited to occasional climbing of
stairs or ramps, stooping, kneeling, balancing, and crouching
but she can never crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. Additionally, the claimant should avoid
concentrated exposure to hazards including unprotected
heights, uneven terrain, and dangerous machinery.
Tr. 24. After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy and that, therefore, she was not disabled.
support of her appeal, Plaintiff advances several arguments:
(1) that the ALJ erred in evaluating her subjective
complaints of pain; (2) that the ALJ failed to consider her
combination of impairments; (3) that the ALJ ignored her
non-severe mental impairment; and (4) that the ALJ assigned
insufficient weight to the opinion of her treating physician,
Dr. Goldberg. Each argument lacks merit for the reasons
Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ relied solely on a lack of
objective medical evidence to discredit her subjective
complaints of disabling pain and other symptoms. ECF 17-1 at
3-6. However, in contrast, the ALJ made specific findings
based on Plaintiff's subjective reporting. For example,
as to Plaintiff's memory, the ALJ contrasted her
subjective reports of memory problems with her performance
during testing and examination. Tr. 22. Similarly, as to
Plaintiff's subjective reports of difficulty getting
along with others, the ALJ noted Plaintiff's ability to
work at various jobs after her alleged onset date, and her
ability to relate well to examiners. Id. The ALJ
also cited to Plaintiff's reported activities of daily
living, including maintaining personal hygiene, cooking,
driving, cleaning, caring for her children, working, styling
hair, and singing. Tr. 23, 27. Thus, the ALJ appropriately
considered Plaintiff's subjective statements, in addition
to the objective results from her medical examinations, to
determine her condition. Ultimately, my review of the
ALJ's decision is confined to whether substantial
evidence, in the record as it was reviewed by the ALJ,
supports the decision and whether correct legal standards
were applied. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 390 (1971). Even if there is other evidence that may
support Plaintiff's position, I am not permitted to
reweigh the evidence or to substitute my own judgment for
that of the ALJ. See Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d
1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In considering the entire record,
and given the evidence outlined above, I find the ALJ's
evaluation of Plaintiff's subjective complaints was
supported by substantial evidence.
argues that the ALJ failed to consider her impairments of
fibromyalgia and congestive heart failure in combination,
arguing that the report from Dr. Mathur considered only
fibromyalgia, not congestive heart failure. ECF 17-1 at 9-10.
While Plaintiff is correct that the formal diagnosis of
congestive heart failure appears to have occurred almost two
years after Dr. Mathur's assessment, Dr. Mathur assessed
Plaintiff's physical condition as of the time of his
evaluation, and the ALJ's notes also discuss the results
of later physical examinations around the time of the
congestive heart failure diagnosis. Tr. 26. The fact that
additional evidence was added to the record after Dr.
Mathur's examination does not invalidate the results of
his examination as of the time he completed it. Moreover, the
ALJ adequately explained why she did not add additional
restrictions as a result of the congestive heart failure
diagnosis. Tr. 26 (citing “the normal physical
examination and improved condition noted in the treatment
next contends that, after determining that her mental
impairments of depression and anxiety were non-severe, the
ALJ failed to consider limitations relating to those
impairments in her RFC assessment. ECF 17-1 at 10-11.
However, the ALJ expressly considered and made a finding
relevant to Plaintiff's mental conditions: “The
claimant's lack of treatment with a mental health
specialist along with independent medical examinations
suggest her depression and anxiety are not severe impairments
and do not restrict her ability to work.” Tr. 27. In
support of that contention, the ALJ cited to exhibits 7F and
13F, which are mental health consultative evaluation reports
finding relatively minor symptoms. See, e.g., Tr.
493 (noting Plaintiff “seems able to understand, learn
and retain information. She can follow simple and some
complex instructions. Social interaction was good to
fair.”); Tr. 590 (noting Plaintiff's ability to do
“serial 7s, ” recall items after five minutes,
and process a three step command correctly, and finding
“[w]ith good support - medication and therapy prognosis
for a psychiatric gradual recovery is favorable.”). In
light of the evidence cited by the ALJ, and the lack of any
significant mental health treatment in the record, the ALJ
appropriately assessed Plaintiff's mental limitations in
considering her RFC assessment.
Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ assigned insufficient
weight to an opinion from her treating physician, Dr.
Goldberg. ECF 17-1 at 11-14. Dr. Goldberg's opinion is
rendered as one part of the “plan” section of his
treatment notes, and is not a freestanding opinion addressed
to the SSA. Tr. 656. In relevant part, Dr. Goldberg states,
“At this point, I do not see the ability for the
patient to return to work full-time given her heart failure
and probable cardiomyopathy. She will need her carvedilol
escalated in the future and will need extremely close
monitoring both medically and from a cardiovascular
perspective.” Id. The ALJ stated, “The
undersigned gives little weight to these opinions because
they are not supported by specific restrictions that would
preclude full time work. Additionally, they are inconsistent
with the normal physical examination and improved condition
noted in the treatment notes. Furthermore, the determination
of disability is reserved for the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration.” Tr. 26. Plaintiff objects to
the characterization of Dr. Goldberg's opinion as
inconsistent with the treatment notes, and suggests that Dr.
Goldberg did not make a “determination of
disability.” ECF 17-1 at 11-14. While Plaintiff is able
to excerpt some notes from Dr. Goldberg's report that
might lead to a different conclusion, the notes stated that
Plaintiff's congestive heart failure is “improved
and stabilized, ” Tr. 656, and indicate that she
“actually was trying to exercise and felt an
improvement after an initial low dose” of medication.
Tr. 655. The findings on physical examination were
essentially normal. Id. In light of those findings,
I cannot conclude that the ALJ's characterization of the
record was erroneous.
the ALJ is not required to give controlling weight to medical
opinions on the ultimate issue of whether a claimant is
“disabled or unable to work.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(d)(1), 416.927(d)(1) (internal
quotations omitted); Sharp v. Colvin, 660 Fed.
App'x 251, 256-58 (4th Cir. 2016) (unpublished)
(affirming ALJ's rejection of doctor opinion that
claimant could not maintain a routine work schedule, because
that determination is reserved for the ALJ and the opinion
was inconsistent with other evidence). Here, the ALJ was not
bound by Dr. Goldberg's opinion that Plaintiff was
“precluded from full time work, ” and the ALJ
cited the lack of specific work-related restrictions and the
inconsistency with examination notes. Tr. 26. Therefore, the
ALJ's assessment of Dr. Goldberg's opinion was
reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment, ECF 17, is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment, ECF 18, is GRANTED. The SSA's judgment
is AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence four ...