United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
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.
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. 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.
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
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.
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.
Medical Support for ALJ's Decision
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 ...