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 2. I have
considered the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. ECF 18, 23. 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. 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 decision pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on May 22, 2014,
alleging a disability onset date of July 5, 2013. Tr. 253-59.
His application was denied initially and on reconsideration.
Tr. 133-36, 139-40. An Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing on May 10, 2017. Tr.
40-87. Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. Tr. 10-28. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for further 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
“reconstructive surgery of a weight bearing joint;
osteoarthritis; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and
cervical spine; calcaneal spur; and plantar fasciitis.”
Tr. 12. Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
lift, carry, push, and pull 10 pounds occasionally and less
than 10 pounds frequently, sit for six hours in an eight-hour
workday, stand or walk for two hours in an eight-hour
workday, and must have an option to sit and stand at will. He
can also occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, and
stoop, but never climb ladders or scaffolds, kneel, crouch,
or crawl. He can never be exposed to unprotected heights or
moving mechanical parts. He must avoid concentrated exposure
to: humidity and wetness, extreme cold and heat, vibration,
and odors, fumes, gases, and poor ventilation. He also must
work in a moderately loud environment or quieter.
Tr. 16. After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of jobs that
exist in significant number in the national economy. Tr.
27-28. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not
disabled. Tr. 28.
appeal, Plaintiff raises two arguments: (1) the ALJ erred in
assessing Plaintiff's subjective allegations of disabling
symptoms; and (2) the ALJ failed to discuss Plaintiff's
obesity and consider how his obesity would impact the
limiting effects of his other impairments. ECF 18-1 at 7-8.
Both arguments lack merit for the reasons set forth below.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in assessing
Plaintiff's subjective complaints, because the ALJ mainly
based his analysis on medical opinions from 2014 and failed
to account for the worsening nature of Plaintiff's
impairments. ECF 18-1 at 7. In contrast, the ALJ provided a
thorough explanation in his RFC analysis which included
discussion of various interventions that helped
Plaintiff's pain, such as shoe inserts and a night splint
for his plantar fasciitis, Tr. 18-19, pain medications and
use of a TENS machine, Tr. 17, 19, Plaintiff's report
that he was doing well with only “minor aches and pain
and some clicking while walking, ” Tr. 19, his ability
to ambulate effectively without an assistive device, Tr. 16,
23, 24, improvement in Plaintiff's symptoms when he
exercised and did physical therapy, Tr. 18, 20-21, 22, and
Plaintiff's daily activities which included cutting his
grass on a riding mower, driving, and exercising at a gym,
Tr. 23, 25.
regards to the opinion evidence, the ALJ provided an
extensive analysis of the medical opinion evidence. Tr.
22-26. He assigned most of the opinions “partial
weight, ” id., and assigned the opinion of the
State agency medical consultant, Dr. Dilip Kar “great
weight, ” Tr. 24. An ALJ must base the RFC analysis
“on all of the relevant medical and other evidence,
” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3), and must assign
weight to any relevant medical opinions, 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c). However, the ALJ “need not parrot a single
medical opinion, or even assign ‘great weight' to
any opinions, in determining an RFC assessment.”
Jackson v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec., Civil No.
CCB-13-2086, 2014 WL 1669105, at *2 (D. Md. Apr. 24, 2014).
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). Accordingly, I find the ALJ's
evaluation of Plaintiff's subjective complaints and the
opinion evidence was supported by substantial evidence.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to discuss
Plaintiff's obesity. ECF 18-1 at 7-8. Plaintiff argues
that Plaintiff's “BMI of 38-42 . . . is approaching
extreme to extreme [sic] obesity and would necessarily
complicate standing and walking, ” and that the ALJ
should have considered “how other severe impairments
could be worsened as a result.” Id. The only
medical records Plaintiff cites to support his argument are
two notations in his records of his BMI. Id.
Pursuant to Social Security Ruling 02-1p, 2002 WL 34686281,
at *4 (S.S.A. Sept. 12, 2002), obesity is a severe impairment
“when, alone or in combination with another medically
determinable physical or mental impairment(s), it
significantly limits an individual's physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities.” While Plaintiff
correctly notes that his BMIs of 38 and 42 placed him within
the highest levels of obesity according to the Clinical
Guidelines, “[t]here is no specific level of weight or
BMI that equates with a ‘severe' or a ‘not
severe' impairment, ” id. Rather, the
impact of obesity on an individual's functioning is
assessed on a case-by-case basis. Id. Plaintiff has
not directed this Court to, nor does this Court find, any
indication that his obesity severely impacted his
functioning. As a result, the ALJ did not err by not
including Plaintiff's obesity as a severe impairment.
Furthermore, even if it was error for the ALJ to not discuss
Plaintiff's obesity in the RFC assessment, such an error
would be harmless, because the Plaintiff has not suggested
his obesity would limit his standing or walking to a degree
greater than the ALJ already limited Plaintiff in the RFC.
See Brown v. Astrue, Civil No. JKS-09-1792, 2011 WL
129006, at *2 (D. Md. Jan. 14, 2011) (denying remand where
claimant failed to identify evidence suggesting that his
obesity caused greater limitations than the ALJ assigned).
reasons set forth above, I respectfully recommend that:
1. the Court DENY Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment, ECF 18;
2. the Court GRANT Defendant's Motion for Summary