United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff and Counsel:
20, 2018, Plaintiff Steven M., who appears pro se,
petitioned this Court to review the Social Security
Administration's (“SSA's”) final decision
to deny his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income. ECF 1. I have considered the
SSA's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF 15. 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.
protectively filed his claims for benefits in March and April
of 2014, alleging a disability onset date of August 29, 2012.
Tr. 294-304. His claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Tr. 122-29, 133-40. A hearing, at which
Plaintiff was represented by a non-attorney representative,
was held on July 14, 2017, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). Tr. 36-72. 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. 10-27. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review, Tr. 1-6, so the ALJ's decision
constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the SSA.
found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of
“affective disorder, anxiety disorder, learning
disorder, dyslexia, and attention-deficit disorder.”
Tr. 12. Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following non-exertional limitations: The claimant
can perform simple and routine tasks, but not at production
pace. He can make simple work-related decisions and can
adjust to occasionally [sic] changes in workplace settings.
The claimant can communicate simple information, and he
occasionally can interact with coworkers and supervisors, but
he never can interact with the public.
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, accordingly, that Plaintiff was not disabled.
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
arguments made by Plaintiff's non-attorney representative
at the administrative level. See, e.g., Tr. 48-50.
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 he had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged
onset date. Tr. 12; 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 him from working. See
Tr. 12-13; 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. 12-13, the ALJ continued with
the sequential evaluation and considered, in assessing
Plaintiff's RFC, the extent to which his impairments
limited his ability to work.
three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments
did not meet or medically equal the criteria of any listings
in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (2017). Tr.
13-15. In particular, the ALJ identified and
considered mental health listings 12.04, 12.05, 12.06, and
12.11. Tr. 13-14. Those listings include: (1)
“paragraph A criteria, ” which consist of a set
of medical findings; (2) “paragraph B criteria, ”
which consist of a set of impairment-related functional
limitations; and (3) “paragraph C criteria” for
listings 12.04 and 12.06, which relate to “serious and
persistent” disorders lasting at least two years with a
history of ongoing medical treatment and marginal adjustment.
Id. §§ 12.00(A), (G). A claimant's
impairments meet the listings relevant to this case by
satisfying either the paragraph A and paragraph B criteria,
or the paragraph A and paragraph C criteria. Id.
evaluated the “paragraph B” criteria, and found
Plaintiff to have moderate limitations in each of the four
relevant functional areas, supporting each determination with
citations to the evidence of record. Tr. 14. The ALJ also
considered the paragraph C criteria of listings 12.04 and
12.06, and the paragraph A criteria of listing 12.05, and
determined that Plaintiff did not fulfill the relevant
requirements of any of the listings. Tr. 15. I have carefully
reviewed the record, and I agree that no listings are met in
considering Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ summarized his
subjective complaints from his hearing testimony as part of
an extensive and detailed review of his medical records. Tr.
16-23. The ALJ noted, among other findings, that there were
discrepancies between Plaintiff's testimony and the
treatment records, Tr. 17, that Plaintiff's treating
psychotherapist often reports that he has a euthymic mood,
id., that more significant episodes leading to
hospital encounters have been triggered by household discord
or medication non-compliance, id., and that his
treating psychologist found that Plaintiff focuses on his
limitations rather than his strengths. Tr. 19. The ALJ
reviewed the specific medical evidence supporting those
assessments, incorporating assignments of weight to the
medical opinion evidence from the consulting and
non-examining medical sources. Tr. 17-24. Specifically, the
ALJ assigned only “partial weight” to the
non-examining State medical consultants, who had not had the
opportunity to review the more recent medical records, Tr.
24, “partial weight” to the opinion of
Plaintiff's therapist, Mr. Laxton, because some of his
check-box form was inconsistent with his treatment records,
Tr. 23, and “little weight” to a statement in the
treatment notes from Plaintiff's general practitioner,
Dr. Goldman, who opined at one visit that Plaintiff
“really ought to be on long-term disability, ”
Tr. 20. The ALJ explained that Dr. Goldman's statement
addressed an issue that is reserved to the Commissioner, and
that Dr. Goldman's treatment notes do not support
disabling mental health symptoms. Id.
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, 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.
further note that the ALJ's evaluation of Plaintiff's
impairments complied with Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d
632, 638 (4th Cir. 2015), in that the ALJ assigned
limitations in the RFC assessment to address Plaintiff's
moderate limitations in understanding, remembering, or
applying information, interacting with others, concentrating,
persisting, or maintaining pace, and adapting or managing
oneself. Tr. 14, 15. The ALJ limited Plaintiff to simple
tasks and the communication of simple information, mandated
that Plaintiff would have limited need to adapt to workplace
changes, significantly restricted Plaintiff's amount of
interaction with others, and required that Plaintiff's
work not be at a ...