United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
LETTER TO THE PARTIES
Plaintiff and Counsel:
March 5, 2018, Plaintiff Angela C., who appears pro
se, 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
SSA's Motion for Summary Judgment, in addition to
arguments made by Plaintiff's prior attorney during and
following her administrative hearing. ECF 19. 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
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 June 26, 2015, alleging a
disability onset date of May 28, 2015. Tr. 183-98. Her claims
were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 102-07,
111-14. A hearing, at which Plaintiff was represented by
counsel, was held on July 14, 2017, before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”). Tr. 29-51. Following that
hearing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the
relevant time frame. Tr. 13-23. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, Tr. 1-6, so the ALJ's
decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the
found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of
“degenerative disc disease and remote history of right
foot surgery with residual pain.” 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 the claimant can occasionally climb ramps
and stairs but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The
claimant can never work at unprotected heights.
Tr. 16. After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
could perform her past relevant work as a driver/car jockey,
and, alternatively, could perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 21-23.
Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not
disabled. Tr. 23.
carefully reviewed the ALJ's opinion and the entire
record. See Elam v. Barnhart, 386 F.Supp.2d 746, 753
(E.D. Tex. 2005) (mapping an analytical framework for
judicial review of a pro se action challenging an
adverse administrative decision, including: (1) examining
whether the SSA's decision generally comports with
regulations, (2) reviewing the ALJ's critical findings
for compliance with the law, and (3) determining from the
evidentiary record whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's findings). In particular, I have considered the
letter Plaintiff's prior attorney sent to the Appeals
Council requesting review of the ALJ's decision. Tr.
179-80. For the reasons described below, substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's decision.
proceeded in accordance with applicable law at all five steps
of the sequential evaluation. The ALJ ruled in
Plaintiff's favor at step one, and determined that she
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her
alleged onset date. Tr. 15; see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). At step
two, the ALJ then considered the severity of each of the
impairments that Plaintiff claimed prevented her from
working. See Tr. 15-16; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). After finding several
of Plaintiff's impairments to be severe, Tr. 15-16, the
ALJ continued with the sequential evaluation and considered,
in assessing Plaintiff's RFC, the extent to which her
impairments limited her ability to work.
three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments
did not meet or medically equal the criteria of any listings.
Tr. 16. In particular, the ALJ identified and
considered Listings 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint), and
1.04 (disorders of the spine). Tr. 16. With respect to each
listing, the ALJ cited to the evidence of record and
explained that at least one criterion for the listing was not
met. Id. I have carefully reviewed the record, and I
agree that no listings are met in this case.
considering Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ summarized her
subjective complaints from her hearing testimony as part of
an extensive and detailed review of her medical records. Tr.
18-20. The ALJ noted, among other findings, that
Plaintiff's activities of daily living, as determined by
her own subjective statements, are inconsistent with a
disabling level of impairments, Tr. 18, that Plaintiff had
not exhausted the conservative treatment options recommended
by medical professionals and had not pursued surgery,
id., and that physical examinations reflected only
mild to moderate limitations, id. The ALJ reviewed
the specific medical evidence supporting those assessments.
Tr. 18-20. The ALJ then provided an extensive analysis of the
medical opinion evidence from the consulting and
non-examining medical sources, and assigned “great
weight” to the source opinions of the State agency
physicians, while adding some additional limitations based on
Plaintiff's testimony and recent examination records. Tr.
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. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390 (1971). Even if there is other evidence that
may support Plaintiff's position, such as the evidence
cited in the letter Plaintiff's counsel submitted, I am
not permitted to reweigh the evidence or to substitute my own
judgment for that of the ALJ. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In considering the entire
record, and the evidence outlined above, I find that the ALJ
supported his RFC determination with substantial evidence.
steps four and five, relying on the VE's testimony, the
ALJ determined that a person with Plaintiff's RFC would
be capable of performing her past relevant work as a
driver/car jockey. Tr. 21-22. Alternatively, in accordance
with the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that a person
with Plaintiff's RFC could perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy, including
housekeeper, packer, or inspector at the light exertional
level. Tr. 22-23. Because the VE's testimony constitutes
substantial evidence to support the conclusion, the ALJ's
determination must be affirmed.
reasons set forth herein, Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment, ECF 19, is GRANTED. The SSA's judgment is
AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). The Clerk is directed to CLOSE this case.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as