United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Deborah L. Boardman United States Magistrate Judge
September 21, 2018, Plaintiff Helene C. petitioned this Court
to review the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) final decision to deny her claims
for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income. ECF 1. I have considered the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment, and Plaintiff's
reply. ECF 14, 17, 20. 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.
filed her claims for benefits on January 4, 2016, alleging a
disability onset date of December 13, 2015. Tr. 227-35. Her
claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr.
122-29, 135-43. A hearing was held on May 30, 2017, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Tr. 36-60.
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. 16-29. 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
“lumbar disc disorder with chronic pain syndrome,
migraine headaches and obesity.” Tr. 18. 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) with additional limitations. The claimant is able
to lift up to 20 pounds at a time, frequently lift or carry
objects weighing up to 10 pounds, and stand, walk and sit for
approximately six hours each in an eight-hour workday. She
can push/pull the same amount as she can lift and carry. The
claimant can occasionally operate foot controls with the left
lower extremity and frequently reach and handle. The claimant
can occasionally climb ramps and stairs and occasionally
stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. She can never climb ladders,
ropes or scaffolds. The claimant will need to be able to
change positions every 30 minutes from sitting to
standing/walking. The claimant will not be off task when
Tr. 21. After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
could perform her past relevant work as a cashier, and, in
the alternative, could perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 26-28.
Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled.
raises two primary arguments on appeal: (1) that the ALJ
erred at step three in analyzing whether Plaintiff's
impairments met or medically equaled Listing 1.04A; and (2)
that the ALJ's RFC determination was unsupported by
substantial evidence. Each argument lacks merit for the
reasons discussed below.
first argument relates to the ALJ's evaluation of Listing
1.04. ECF 14 at 9-23. The ALJ's analysis reads as
Consideration has been given to listing 1.04, however the
requirements of this listing have not been satisfied. In
making this assessment, the undersigned has also taken note
of Acquiescence Ruling 15-1(4) and Walker v. Colvin
(Civil Action No. CBD-15-2293). In making this assessment,
the undersigned notes that the medical evidence does not
establish the requisite evidence of nerve root compression,
spinal arachnoiditis or lumbar spinal stenosis as required
under listing 1.04.
Specific consideration has been given to listing 1.04(A). The
undersigned notes that while the claimant's pain
management physicians noted a diagnosis of lumbar
radiculopathy, the most recent May 2016 MRI specifically
noted that there was no nerve root impingement (Exhibit B9F
& B21F). Moreover, even with this diagnosis, listing 1.04
is not met, as there is no 12-month period where the
claimant's spinal disorder caused nerve root compression
characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain,
limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with
associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by
sensory or reflex loss and, if there is involvement of the
lower back, positive straight-leg raising test (sitting and
supine). In making this assessment, the undersigned notes
that there is no evidence that the claimant experienced motor
loss and that physical examination findings from the last
year documented no abnormalities upon straight leg raise
testing (Exhibits B7F & B21F).
Tr. 21. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in three
respects in his step three discussion: (1) by relying on
Plaintiff's 2016 MRI to conclude that the record did not
establish nerve root compression; (2) that the ALJ found the
record devoid of evidence of motor loss; and (3) that the ALJ
failed to apply Acquiescence Ruling 15-1(4) by limiting his
review to the twelve months prior to his decision. ECF 14 at
satisfy Listing 1.04A, a claimant must show that her disorder
of the spine results in a compromise of the nerve ...