United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
CHAMBERS OF STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
December 19, 2018, Plaintiff Dale M. petitioned this Court to
review the Social Security Administration's
("SSA's") final decision to deny his claims for
disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income. ECF 1.
I have considered the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. ECF 12, 13.1 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 Plaintiffs
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.
filed his claims for benefits on April 13, 2016, alleging
disability beginning November 13, 2013.Tr. 198-208. His
claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr.
66-105. A hearing was held on October 31, 2017, before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Tr. 36-65.
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. 17-30. The Appeals
Council ("AC") denied Plaintiffs request for
review, Tr. 1-8, so the ALJ's decision constitutes the
final, reviewable decision of the SSA.
found that, during the relevant period, Plaintiff suffered
from the severe impairments of "post-traumatic subtalar
arthrosis with ankle instability and perineal tendonitis,
status-post fusion; rheumatoid disease; and degenerative
changes of the right wrist." Tr. 20. Despite these
impairments, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity ("RFC") to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except he can stand and walk for four hours and he
can sit for six hours. He can occasionally stoop, crouch,
kneel, and crawl. He can occasionally climb stairs and ramps,
but cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can
frequently handle and finger bilaterally. He needs to avoid
concentrated exposure to hazards including heights and heavy
machinery, and he needs to avoid concentrated exposure to
cold weather extremes and humidity.
After considering the testimony of a vocational expert
("VE"), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not
perform any of his past relevant work, but that he could
perform other jobs requiring unskilled sedentary exertion and
available in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr.
27-29. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not
disabled. Tr. 29.
support of his appeal, Plaintiff advances two primary
arguments: (1) that the ALJ erred by relying on VE testimony
that conflicts with Social Security Ruling ("SSR")
96-9p, ECF 12-1 at 6-7; and (2) that the ALJ erred in
assigning weight to the medical opinion evidence,
id. at 7-8. Each argument lacks merit for the
reasons discussed below.
Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ should have found an apparent
conflict between the VE's testimony and SSR 96-9p, which
states that "[a]ny significant manipulative
limitation of an individual's ability to handle and work
with small objects with both hands will result in a
significant erosion of the unskilled sedentary occupational
base." ECF 12-1 at 6-7 (quoting SSR 96-9p) (emphasis in
original). The VE in this case testified that a limitation to
"occasional" handling and fingering would eliminate
all jobs, but identified several hypothetical jobs that could
be performed by a claimant who could finger and handle
"frequently" with both hands. Tr. 61-62. Plaintiff
posits, "It is hard to imagine a hypothetical packer,
sorter or assembler not handling or fingering with either
hand for half of the workday." ECF 12-1 at 6. However,
the relevant criteria is not established by speculation about
a job's requirements, but by the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles ("DOT"), which provides that
those jobs require only frequent, not constant, handling and
fingering. See U.S. Dep't of Labor,
Dictionary of Occupational Titles, §§
237.367-046, 669.687-014, 732.684-062, 737.587-010 (4th ed.
1991). SSR 96-9p speaks in terms of "significant
limitation," and does not place that term on a spectrum
including occasional, frequent, or constant performance of
manipulative tasks. Moreover, SSR 96-9p addresses the
sedentary occupational base, whereas Plaintiff was limited to
light work. There is, therefore, no basis for finding a
conflict between SSR 96-9p and the VE's testimony in this
case. The hypothetical proffered to the VE suggested an
ability to frequently handle and finger bilaterally, and the
VE identified jobs meeting that criteria, in accordance with
s second argument is that the ALJ erred in assigning weight
to the medical opinion evidence. ECF 12-1 at 7-8. First,
Plaintiff discounts the fact that the non-examining State
agency medical consultant found no manipulative limitations,
Tr. 90, in asserting that there are only "two opinions
in the record, [Plaintiffs] treating physician and the
ALJ's lay medical opinion." ECF 12-1 at 7. The ALJ
assigned "some weight" to the opinion of the State
agency medical consultant. Tr. 26. Second, the ALJ did not
rely exclusively on the opinion of the State agency medical
consultant to discount disabling manipulative limitations.
The ALJ also relied upon the extended gaps in Plaintiffs
medical treatment, the improvements in his condition when
treated, and his activities of daily living, "including
caring for a baby, helping with cooking, cleaning, and
playing poker," which the ALJ found "inconsistent
with an inability to frequently handle and finger." Tr.
27. Finally, the ALJ appropriately assigned "only some
weight" to the three similar opinions authored by
Plaintiff s treating physician, Dr. Reddy. Tr. 26-27. The ALJ
correctly noted that Dr. Reddy's opinions suggest extreme
limitations in almost every area of functioning, which is
inconsistent with Plaintiffs own reports of his activities of
daily living and with Dr. Reddy's own treatment notes.
Tr. 25-27. Ultimately, 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.
Per ales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). Even if there is
other evidence that may support Plaintiffs 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). Here, the ALJ supported
her conclusions with substantial evidence, and remand is
reasons set forth herein, Plaintiffs Motion for Summary
Judgment, ECF 12, is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment, ECF 13, is GRANTED. The SSA's judgment
is AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion. An implementing order follows.