United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
TO THE PARTIES
Plaintiff and Counsel:
December 19, 2018, Plaintiff Beverly G., who appears pro
se, petitioned this Court to review the Social Security
Administration's (“SSA's”) final decision
to deny her claim for Supplemental Security Income. ECF 1.
Plaintiff did not file a motion for summary judgment before
the filing deadline, but I have considered the SSA's
motion for summary judgment, and Plaintiff's two filings
in opposition. ECF 15, 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 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.
prior denials of benefits, Plaintiff filed her claim for
benefits on December 24, 2014, alleging a disability onset
date of July 1, 2014. Tr. 225-30. Her claim was denied initially
and on reconsideration. Tr. 57-60, 165-66. An Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on May 18, 2017,
at which Plaintiff was represented by counsel. Tr. 81-106.
Following that hearing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
during the relevant time frame. Tr. 60-70. 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.
carefully reviewed the ALJ's opinion and the entire
record. See Elam v. Barnhart, 386 F.Supp.2d 746, 753
(E.D. Tex. 2005) (mapping an analytical framework for
judicial review of a pro se action challenging an
adverse administrative decision, including: (1) examining
whether the SSA's decision generally comports with
regulations, (2) reviewing the ALJ's critical findings
for compliance with the law, and (3) determining from the
evidentiary record whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's findings). For the reasons set forth below, the ALJ
applied the correct legal standards and supported her
conclusions with substantial evidence.
proceeded in accordance with applicable law, using the
appropriate sequential evaluation. The ALJ found in
Plaintiff's favor at step one, that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since her application
date. Tr. 62. At step two, the ALJ then considered the
severity of each of the impairments that Plaintiff claimed
prevented her from working. See Tr. 62-63; 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The ALJ determined that
Plaintiff's GERD was not a severe impairment because it
did not cause associated functional deficits, and that
Plaintiff's left foot pain and atypical chest pain were
not medically determinable impairments because no physician
had found a medically determinable cause. Tr. 63. Regardless,
after finding several of Plaintiff's other impairments to
be severe, Tr. 62-63, the ALJ continued with the sequential
evaluation and considered, in assessing Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”), the extent
to which her impairments limited her ability to work.
three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments
did not meet or medically equal the criteria of any listings.
Tr. 63-64. In particular, the ALJ identified and considered
Listings 3.02 (COPD) and 12.04 (depressive, bipolar, and
related disorders) and 12.15 (trauma-and stressor-related
disorders). With respect to Listing 3.02, the ALJ explained
that Plaintiff did not meet the criteria for pulmonary
function testing levels or frequency of hospitalizations.
Id. With respect to the two mental health listings,
the ALJ engaged in the special technique for evaluation of
mental impairments, but found no more than a moderate
limitation in each of the four relevant functional areas. Tr.
63-64. The ALJ employs the “special technique” to
rate a claimant's degree of limitation in each functional
area, based on the extent to which the claimant's
impairment “interferes with [the claimant's]
ability to function independently, appropriately,
effectively, and on a sustained basis.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920a(c)(2). The ALJ uses a five-point scale to
rate a claimant's degree of limitation in the four areas:
none, mild, moderate, marked, or extreme. Id. §
416.920a(c)(4). In order to satisfy the “paragraph B
criteria”, a claimant must exhibit either
“marked” limitations in two of the four areas, or
“extreme” limitation in one of the four areas. 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.00(A)(2)(b). Here,
with no findings of marked limitation in any area, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff's impairments did not satisfy
the “paragraph B criteria.” The ALJ also found
that Plaintiff did not meet the “paragraph C
criteria” of the mental health listings, which require
“serious and persistent” disorders lasting at
least two years with a history of ongoing medical treatment
and marginal adjustment. Id. § 12.00 (G). I
have carefully reviewed the record, and I agree that no
listings are met in this case.
considering Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ summarized her
subjective complaints from her hearing testimony, along with
an extensive and detailed review of her medical records. Tr.
65-68. The ALJ noted, among other findings, that Plaintiff
had regular visits with her primary care physician, without
exhibiting “significant abnormalities.” Tr. 66.
Similarly, the ALJ cited Plaintiff's visits to the
emergency department, which generally did not result in
inpatient admission. Id. Looking at Plaintiff's
mental health treatment, the ALJ noted no hospitalizations
during the relevant window following her December, 2014
protective filing date, some compliance issues, and generally
consistent functioning, even during a period without
treatment in late 2016 through early 2017. Tr. 66-67. As the
ALJ described, treating mental health providers generally
found only mild or moderate limitations associated with
Plaintiff's impairments, as reflected in medical reports
and in assigned global assessment of functioning
(“GAF”) scores. Tr. 67, 68. The ALJ noted that
Plaintiff was able to use public transportation and perform
self-care with only mild deficits. Tr. 67. Finally, the ALJ
assigned weight to the opinions rendered by examining and
non-examining medical sources, assigning only “some
weight” to the opinions of those who did not believe
Plaintiff to have severe impairments, and “significant
weight” to the opinion of the State agency
psychological consultant. Tr. 67. The ALJ also appropriately
considered and explained her evaluation of the prior ALJ
opinion rendered in connection with Plaintiff's previous
application, and evidence from Plaintiff's mother about
her condition. Tr. 68.
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. 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. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453,
1456 (4th Cir. 1990). In considering the entire record, and
the evidence outlined above, I find that the ALJ supported
her RFC determination with substantial evidence.
steps four and five, relying on the vocational expert's
(“VE's”) testimony, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff had no past relevant work. Tr. 68. However, in
accordance with the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined
that a person with Plaintiff's RFC could perform a
restricted range of light jobs existing in significant
numbers in the national economy, including order caller,
cashier II, and ticket taker. Tr. 69. Because the VE's
testimony constitutes substantial evidence to support the
conclusion, the ALJ's determination must be affirmed.
reasons set forth herein, Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment, ECF 15, 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.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion. An implementing order follows.
Stephanie A. Gallagher United ...