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Latoya B. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 30, 2019

Latoya B.
Andrew M. Saul, Commissioner of Social Security


         Dear Counsel:

         On June 15, 2018, Plaintiff Latoya B.[1] petitioned this Court to review the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny her claim for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).[2] (ECF No. 1.) The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 15 & 18.) These motions have been referred to the undersigned with the parties' consent pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule 301.[3] Having considered the submissions of the parties, I find that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. This Court must uphold the decision of the agency if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the agency employed the proper legal standards. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th Cir. 2015). Following its review, this Court may affirm, modify, or reverse the Acting Commissioner, with or without a remand. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89 (1991). Under that standard, I will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny the Plaintiff's motion. This letter explains my rationale.

         In her applications for SSI and DIB, Latoya B. alleged a disability onset date of August 22, 2008. (Tr. 14.) Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Id.) A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on February 28, 2017, (Tr. 33-90), and the ALJ found that Latoya B. was not disabled under the Social Security Act (Tr. 14-25). The Appeals Council denied Latoya B.'s request for review (Tr. 1-4), making the ALJ's decision the final, reviewable decision of the agency.

         The ALJ evaluated Latoya B.'s claim for benefits using the five-step sequential evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found that Latoya B. was not engaged in substantial gainful activity and had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 22, 2008, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 16.) At step two, the ALJ found that Latoya B. suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, left knee osteoarthritis, chondromalacia, tendinitis/sprain/strain and prior left knee arthroscopy; right shoulder osteoarthritis; bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome; heel spurs; obesity; diabetes; status post Cesarean sections, left salpingectomy, adhesiolysis and repair of small intestine; status post hysterectomy and right oophorectomy; and status post appendectomy and excision of ovarian cyst. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found Latoya B.'s impairments, separately and in combination, failed to meet or equal in severity any listed impairment as set forth in 20 C.F.R., Chapter III, Pt. 404, Subpart P, App. 1 (“Listings”). (Tr. 19.) Considering Latoya B.'s impairments, the ALJ determined that she retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except with standing and walking two hours in an eight-hour workday; can frequently push and pull with the upper extremities bilaterally; operate foot controls with the left foot occasionally and right foot frequently; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, kneel, stoop, crouch and crawl; never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; frequently rotate, extend and flex the neck; frequently reach overhead with the right upper extremity; frequently finger, feel and handle with the left hand; no concentrated exposure to extreme cold and heat, wetness, humidity, pulmonary irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, gases and poorly ventilated areas, excessive vibration, hazardous moving machinery and unprotected heights.

(Tr. 20.)

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Latoya B. was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 23.) At step five, relying on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Latoya B. can perform, including quality control worker, grading and sorting worker, and bench worker. (Tr. 24.) Therefore, the ALJ found that Latoya B. was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 25.)

         Latoya B. presents numerous arguments in this appeal, including cursory and unsupported arguments discussed only in footnotes. The Court will address the following arguments in this opinion: (1) the ALJ failed to classify certain of her impairments as severe; (2) the ALJ erroneously concluded that she did not meet certain Listings; (3) the ALJ improperly evaluated her RFC; (4) the ALJ posed an improper hypothetical question to the VE; and (5) the ALJ improperly accepted the VE's answer to the hypothetical. None of Latoya B.'s arguments have merit.

         Latoya B. first argues that the ALJ failed to classify several of her impairments as severe impairments at step two of the sequential evaluation process. (ECF No. 15-1 at 11-13.) Specifically, Latoya B. maintains that the ALJ should have classified the following impairments as severe:

uncontrolled diabetes, diabetic neuropathy and plantar fasciitis, right knee chondromalacia, osteoarthritis and ligamentous impairments, fibromyalgia and osteoporosis, right median and radial nerve neuropathy and nerve palsy, epicondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, asthma and respiratory impairments with severe left lung deficit, chronic fatigue and insomnia, hyperlipidemia, coronary artery disease and cardiac arrhythmias, [and] major depression/mood disorder.

(Id. at 11.)

         Latoya B. argues that, contrary to the ALJ's findings, these conditions are not well-controlled with medication or treatment, and have or could be expected to last for more than one year. (Id. at 12.) In support of this contention she cites generally to approximately 750 pages of the record. (Id. at 13.) 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, 416.922. The claimant bears the burden of proving that an impairment is severe. See Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). “[M]ere diagnosis says nothing about the severity of [a] condition.” Corcoran v. Astrue, No. SKG-08-0913, 2009 WL 3100350, at *15 (D. Md. Sept. 22, 2009). Here, the ALJ adequately considered the relevant impairments at step two. The ALJ made the following findings relevant to Latoya B.'s non-severe impairments: her plantar fasciitis was well-controlled with orthotics, her sleep apnea was better with a properly adjusted CPAP, her asthma was mild, her left elbow epicondylitis did not meet the duration requirement, her hypertension was well-controlled with medication, she had hyperlipidemia but no significant atherosclerosis, she had no more than minimal limitations from her left ovarian cyst removal, her nerve impairments did not meet the duration requirement and otherwise caused no significant work limitations, the evidence was insufficient to establish her fibromyalgia as a medically determinable impairment because the evidence does not contain positive trigger point findings, and her mood disorder and major depressive disorder do not cause more than minimal limitations. (Tr. 17-18.) While she bears the burden of proving the severity of each impairment, Latoya B. cites no specific evidence to suggest or establish that any of those impairments are in fact severe, or impose any work-related limitations. Accordingly, I find no error in the ALJ's evaluation of Latoya B.'s impairments at step two. Moreover, even if there had been some error, it would be harmless. Because Plaintiff made the threshold showing that her other impairments were severe, the ALJ continued with the sequential evaluation process and properly considered all impairments, both severe and non-severe, that significantly impacted Plaintiff's ability to work prior to her date last insured. Any step two error, therefore, does not necessitate remand.

         Plaintiff's second argument is that the ALJ erred in not finding that she met the criteria for multiple Listings, including Listing 1.02, 12.04, and 12.05. (ECF No. 15-1 at 13-16.) “For a claimant to show that [her] impairment matches a listing, it must meet all of the specified medical criteria.” Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990) (emphasis in original). The claimant bears the burden of demonstrating that her impairment meets or medically equals a listed impairment. Kellough v. Heckler, 785 F.2d 1147, 1152 (4th Cir. 1986). Here, the ALJ adequately explained his reasoning for why Plaintiff did not meet all of the criteria for any Listing.

         Regarding Listing 1.02, the ALJ discussed the criteria necessary to meeting the Listing and concluded that Latoya B.'s “musculoskeletal impairments do not meet or equal the criteria” of the Listing, ” as the “objective evidence simply fails to indicate that the claimant has functional loss based on a musculoskeletal impairment.” (Tr. 19.) The ALJ adequately explained why Plaintiff did not meet Listing 1.02. To the extent that Latoya B. seeks a reweighing of the evidence, this is not within the purview of this Court. See Hays v. ...

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