United States District Court, D. Maryland
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 3. I have
considered the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. ECF 12, 13. I find that no hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). This Court must
uphold the decision of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) if it is supported by substantial
evidence and if the SSA 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);
Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987).
For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that the Court
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).
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on
December 20, 2010, originally alleging a disability onset
date of September 1, 2010. Tr. 368-76. Her applications were
denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 145-49, 151-64.
An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a
hearing on December 14, 2012, at which Plaintiff was
represented by counsel. Tr. 83-120. Following the hearing,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act. Tr. 125-39. The Appeals
Council (“AC”) remanded the case for a new
hearing. Tr. 140-42. After a brief hearing which adjourned to
allow Plaintiff to obtain representation, Tr. 76-82, an ALJ
held a full second hearing on November 20, 2015. Tr. 33-75.
After ordering and reviewing a consultative examination, the
ALJ issued an opinion again denying benefits on March 30,
2016. Tr. 11-24. This time, the AC denied Plaintiff's
request for further review, Tr. 1-5, so the ALJ's 2016
decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the
hearing, and in briefing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset
date to August 1, 2013. Tr. 37, 520. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity between
October, 2013 and December, 2013, between April, 2014 and
June, 2014, and between October, 2014 and December, 2014. Tr.
14. Accordingly, the ALJ's opinion evaluated only the
periods without substantial gainful activity.
found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of
“lumbar degenerative disc disease; obesity; and
diabetes with neuropathy.” Tr. 15. Despite these
impairments, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and
10 pounds frequently; stand and walk for 2 hours in an 8 hour
day; sit for 6 hours in an 8 hour day; occasionally climb
ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds;
must avoid concentrated exposure to vibration; must avoid
even moderate exposure to hazards such as machinery and
heights; needs to have the opportunity to sit or stand at
least once an hour for 15 minutes without leaving the
workstation; and requires the use of a cane for balance.
Tr. 18. After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that Plaintiff was
capable of performing her past relevant work as a secretary
and check cashier. Tr. 23-24. Therefore, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 24.
appeal, Plaintiff raises several arguments, including that:
(1) the ALJ assigned too little weight to the opinions of her
treating physician, Dr. Fox; and (2) the ALJ erred in
evaluating the opinion of the consultative examiner, Dr.
Honick. ECF 12 at 6-8. Each argument lacks merit for the
reasons set forth below.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ “rejected the opinion
of the treating physician, Dr. Fox by noting that the opinion
dealt only with the condition of the claimant prior to the
period at issue.” ECF 12 at 7. The ALJ's opinion,
however, makes no such statement about Dr. Fox's
opinions. The phrase referenced by Plaintiff was used only in
connection with other medical opinions rendered by other
physicians prior to the amended onset date in the case. Tr.
21 (citing exhibits 6F, 10F, and 9F at 1-3).
Dr. Fox's opinions were assigned little weight, “as
the extent of the limitations opined by Dr. Fox appear to be
based heavily on the claimant's subjective complaints,
and do not comport with the record as a whole, including the
most recent treatment notes from the Baltimore Pain Relief
Center.” Tr. 22. The ALJ cited to specific examples
from the record to explain that assertion, including her
statement that Plaintiff's “treatment has been
essentially routine and/or conservative in nature, ”
Tr. 20, her statement that “the claimant's current
medication regimen is effective at relieving the
claimant's symptoms, without serious side effects,
” supported by citation to specific medical records,
Tr. 21, the fact that Plaintiff had engaged in work activity
after the alleged onset date, id., and references to
Dr. Fox's own treatment notes that undermine the
limitations in his opinions, Tr. 22. The ALJ also noted a
specific inconsistency in Dr. Fox's opinion with respect
to whether Plaintiff experienced any anxiety. Id.
Because the ALJ cited substantial evidence to support her
conclusion, even if there is other evidence that may support
Plaintiff's position, this Court is not permitted to
reweigh the evidence or to substitute its own judgment for
that of the ALJ. See Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d
1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Remand is therefore unwarranted.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ was inconsistent in assigning
weight to the opinion of the consultative examiner, Dr.
Honick. ECF 12 at 8. Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ
attributed only “limited weight” to Dr.
Honick's opinion, but then relied on it as part of the
basis for the RFC assessment. Id. The ALJ's
opinion clearly states, however, that the RFC assessment was
premised in part on “the objective findings of the
consultative examination, ” not on the opinion rendered
by the consultative examiner. Tr. 22. Accordingly, there was
no inconsistency in the ALJ's analysis.
reasons set forth above, I respectfully recommend that:
1. the Court GRANT Defendant's Motion for Summary