Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Denise H. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 10, 2019

Denise H.
v.
Commissioner, Social Security Administration

          Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge

         Dear Counsel:

         On June 14, 2018, Plaintiff Denise H. petitioned this Court to review the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny her claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). ECF 1. I have considered the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment and Plaintiff's reply. ECF 13, 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 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). 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.

         Following a denial on her prior claims for benefits, Plaintiff filed her present claims for DIB and SSI on July 9, 2015, alleging a disability onset date of April 1, 2011.[1] Tr. 384-95. Her claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 178-85, 187-90. A hearing was held on July 17, 2017, before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Tr. 42-72. 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. 20-34. 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.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of “anxiety disorder, affective disorder, obesity, pancreatitis, myositis, rhabdomyolysis, mild cortical atrophy, and peripheral neuropathy of the bilateral lower extremities.” Tr. 23. Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

lift, carry, push, and pull 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; sit for 6 hours in an 8 hour workday; stand/walk for 2 hours in an 8 hour workday; occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl; never climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds; and occasionally be exposed to extreme cold, vibration, moving mechanical parts, and unprotected heights. She is limited to simple, routine tasks not at a production pace, can only occasionally interact with the public and supervisors, and can only occasionally adjust to changes in workplace settings.

         Tr. 26. 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. Tr. 33-34.

         Plaintiff raises three arguments on appeal: (1) that the ALJ committed several errors in assessing the medical evidence; (2) that the ALJ did not support his finding regarding Plaintiff's time off task; and (3) that the ALJ inadequately assessed Plaintiff's statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms. ECF 13-1 at 6-9. In her reply memorandum, Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ failed to address an apparent conflict between the VE testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”). ECF 18 at 5. Each argument lacks merit for the reasons discussed below.

         I. Medical Support for ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff raises several challenges to the ALJ's consideration of the medical evidence. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in assessing the medical opinion evidence and improperly “played doctor.” Specifically, Plaintiff suggests that the ALJ erred in not assigning more weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Wand, and assigning too much weight to the opinion of the non-examining State agency physicians.

         The RFC determination is an issue ultimately reserved for the ALJ. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d)(2), 404.1546(c), 416.927(d)(2), 416.946(c). An ALJ must base the RFC analysis “on all of the relevant medical and other evidence, ” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(3), 416.945(a)(3), and must assign weight to any relevant medical opinions, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c), 416.927(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). A treating physician's opinion is given controlling weight when two conditions are met: (1) it is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical laboratory diagnostic techniques; and (2) it is consistent with other substantial evidence in the record. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2), 416.927(c)(2); Craig, 76 F.3d at 590 (citation omitted). However, where a treating source's opinion is not supported by clinical evidence or is inconsistent with other substantial evidence, it should be accorded significantly less weight. Craig, 76 F.3d at 590. If the ALJ does not give a treating source's opinion controlling weight, the ALJ will assign weight after applying several factors, such as the length and nature of the treatment relationship, the degree to which the opinion is supported by the record as a whole, and any other factors that support or contradict the opinion. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c), 416.927(c).

         Here, Dr. Wand's assessment, dated September 21, 2015, included severe limitations on Plaintiff's functioning due to Plaintiff's muscle weakness accompanying her myositis. Tr. 1962- 65. The ALJ assigned Dr. Wand's opinion “partial weight because it is not well supported by the medical evidence of record, which indicates . . . that [Plaintiff's] myositis was episodic and largely stopped in 2015.” Tr. 32. The ALJ supported his contention regarding Plaintiff's myositis in his RFC analysis. Tr. 27-28, 29-30. Accordingly, the ALJ adequately supported his conclusion that Dr. Wand's opinion was inconsistent with other evidence in the record.

         The ALJ assigned “great weight” to the opinions of the State agency physicians. Tr. 31. Plaintiff claims the physicians “only considered the effects of sprains and strains, obesity, pancreatitis, an affective disorder and substance abuse, ” and failed to consider the combined effect of all of Plaintiff's impairments. ECF 13-1 at 6. However, in reviewing the physicians' opinions as a whole, it is clear that they did consider the combined effect of Plaintiff's impairments, including Plaintiff's myositis, and that the physician at the reconsideration level mentioned Plaintiff's rhabdomyolysis. Tr. 112-14, 128-30, 147-50, 164-67. Contrary to Plaintiff's claim, the physicians also explicitly mentioned Plaintiff's muscle biopsy. Tr. 114, 130, 148, 165. Accordingly, I find no error in the ALJ's assignment of weight to the opinions of the State agency physicians.

         Next, Plaintiff claims that the ALJ failed to address a nerve conduction and EMG study performed in July 2017, or, alternatively, that the ALJ overstepped his bounds by interpreting that study without the aid of a consultative physical examination or medical expert testimony. The ALJ stated that the nerve conduction and EMG study “revealed evidence of severe peripheral neuropathy of the bilateral lower extremities with no clear etiology. The findings were more consistent with mixed axonal loss and demyelination.” Tr. 28. Far from Plaintiff's claim that the ALJ made a “lay assumption of medical expertise, ” ECF 13-1 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.