United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
September 4, 2018, Plaintiff Sharon W. petitioned this Court
to review the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) final decision to deny her claim
for Disability Insurance Benefits. ECF 1. I have considered
the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF 15,
16. 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.
protectively filed her claim for benefits on August 6, 2015,
alleging a disability onset date of June 30, 2015. Tr.
142-45. Her claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration. Tr. 70-73, 77-78. A hearing was held on
August 28, 2017, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). Tr. 29-49. 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. 10-18. 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
“degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
degenerative joint disease of the left knee, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and obesity.” Tr.
12. Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
she can occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds; she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl; she can have occasional exposure to
extreme cold, extreme heat, humidity, vibration, fumes,
odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation, and hazards.
Tr. 14. After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform her
past relevant work as a teacher aide, and that, therefore,
she was not disabled. Tr. 17-18.
raises one primary argument on appeal: that the ALJ erred at
step two by finding that Plaintiff's lymphedema and
peripheral venous insufficiency were not severe impairments.
ECF 15-1 at 9-11. Plaintiff's argument lacks merit for
the reasons discussed below.
two of the five-step sequential evaluation, the ALJ
determines if the claimant has an impairment, or a
combination of impairments, that is severe and meets the
duration requirement. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). An
impairment is considered “severe” if it
significantly limits the claimant's ability to do basic
work activities. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1522. The
claimant bears the burden of proving that an impairment is
severe. See Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th
Cir. 1995). Step two is simply a “de minimis screening
device used to dispose of groundless claims.” See
Taylor v. Astrue, Civil Action No. BPG-11-0032, 2012 WL
294532, at *8 (D. Md. Jan. 31, 2012) (quoting Webb v.
Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 687 (9th Cir. 2005)); see
also Felton-Miller v. Astrue, 459 Fed.Appx. 226, 230
(4th Cir. 2011) (unpublished) (“Step two of the
sequential evaluation is a threshold question with a de
minimis severity requirement.”) (citing Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 153-54 (1987)). Once a severe
impairment is found, the ALJ continues with the sequential
evaluation and considers how each of the claimant's
impairments impacts her ability to perform work. See
20 C.F.R § 404.1520.
the ALJ found that Plaintiff's lymphedema and peripheral
venous insufficiency were nonsevere. Tr. 13. The ALJ noted
that Plaintiff's relevant symptoms improved when she wore
compression stockings, but that she stopped wearing them
because they “were not practical for daily use.”
Id. The ALJ also noted the thermal ablation
treatment that Plaintiff received for her lymphedema and
venous insufficiency. Id. Because Plaintiff made the
threshold showing that several of her other impairments were
severe, the ALJ continued with the sequential evaluation
process and properly considered all impairments, both severe
and non-severe. Tr. 12-17; see 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545. Any step two error, therefore, would not
while assessing Plaintiff's RFC assessment before step
four, the ALJ explained that the record did “not show
[Plaintiff's] alleged need to elevate her legs at heart
level three times a day.” Tr. 15. One of
Plaintiff's treating physicians, Dr. Steward, completed a
“Lymphedema Medical Assessment Form, ” in which
he opined, among other things, that Plaintiff should elevate
her legs at least two hours during the day. Tr. 434-36. The
ALJ assigned Dr. Steward's opinion “no
weight” because it was not consistent with the record.
Tr. 17. The ALJ specifically noted that, “Dr. Steward
did not recommend that [Plaintiff] elevate her legs during
office visits for swelling seen on exam. Rather, he
recommended compression stockings, which reportedly improved
her symptoms.” Tr. 17 (internal citation omitted).
Further, the ALJ also noted Plaintiff's treatment notes
indicating “no appreciable motor deficits in the
bilateral lower extremities, ” Tr. 15, full strength in
her lower extremities with normal sensation and gait, Tr. 16,
17, and that her legs had “normal muscle tone and . . .
[were] neurovascularly intact, ” Tr. 17. The ALJ also
recognized that Plaintiff's treating orthopedist, Dr.
Ward, noted Plaintiff would be on “regular duty status,
” despite her knee impairment and use of a cane. Tr.
15. The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff has used a cane since
2010, but that she was able to work at a substantial gainful
activity level for five years since that time. Tr. 15.
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. See 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. See Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d
1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In considering the entire record,
and given the evidence outlined above, I find the ALJ's
evaluation of Plaintiff's lymphedema and venous
insufficiency was supported by substantial evidence.
final paragraph of Plaintiff's memorandum, she also
argues the ALJ erred by not including greater limitations
caused by her lumbar spine impairment. ECF 15-1 at 11.
However, the ALJ provided a clear explanation for why he did
not find greater limitations caused by Plaintiff's lumbar
spine impairment, with citations to the medical record. Tr.
16. Plaintiff does not suggest any specific flaw in the
ALJ's discussion of the lumbar spine impairment, but
instead points to evidence that could support greater
limitations. Because I am not permitted to reweigh the
evidence or to substitute my own judgment for that of the
ALJ, see Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456, I find no reason to
reverse the ALJ's analysis of Plaintiff's lumbar
reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment, ECF 15, is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment, ECF 16, 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. Despite the