Beckman v. Commissioner, Social Security
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS. Signed by Magistrate Judge Stephanie A Gallagher on 8/17/2017. (bmhs, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
GARY A. BECKMAN
Civil Case No. MJG-16-4081
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Pursuant to Standing Order 2014-01, the above-captioned case has been referred to me to
review the parties’ dispositive motions and to make recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 301.5(b)(ix). I have considered the parties’ cross-motions for
summary judgment, and the related filings. (ECF Nos. 15, 17, 18, 19). I find that no hearing is
necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). This Court must uphold the decision of the
Agency if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the Agency employed proper legal
standards. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir.
Under that standard, I recommend that the Court deny both motions, reverse the
judgment of the Commissioner, and remand the case to the Commissioner for further analysis
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Mr. Beckman protectively filed claims for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) on August 13, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of
June 25, 2013. (Tr. 209-21). His claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 85100, 103-22). A hearing was held on September 3, 2015, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 50-84). Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Mr. Beckman was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 736). The Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Mr. Beckman’s request for review, (Tr. 1-6), so the
ALJ’s decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
The ALJ found that Mr. Beckman suffered from the severe impairments of “degenerative
disc disease, cervical stenosis, and ischemic heart disease.” (Tr. 12). Despite these impairments,
the ALJ determined that Mr. Beckman retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform a range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)
except he can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; he can
occasionally climb; and he can occasionally reach overhead with the bilateral
(Tr. 14). After considering the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that
Mr. Beckman could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy and
that, therefore, he was not disabled. (Tr. 29-30).
Mr. Beckman raises two primary arguments on appeal: (1) that the ALJ did not
appropriately consider the opinions of his treating nurse practitioner and physician’s assistant;
and (2) that the ALJ erred in assessing his credibility. I concur that the ALJ’s credibility analysis
is lacking, and thus recommend remand for further explanation.
Mr. Beckman primarily argued that he was disabled as a result of debilitating neck pain.
See, e.g., (Tr. 54) (Mr. Beckman’s attorney arguing, “really the disability seems to develop
around the cervical area. It’s related to his back and his neck and then numbness that he has
throughout and that radiates out from that.”). When asked what prevented him from working,
Mr. Beckman testified:
My neck bothers me, I have trouble lifting my hands, I had one wrist operated on
for carpal tunnel and the morning after I had it operated on I had another heart
attack. So now nobody will do anything for another year. I have to be on my
heart medication another year before anybody can even work on my other wrist or
they can do anything to my neck now.
(Tr. 61). “In determining the credibility of the individual’s statements, the adjudicator must
consider the entire case record, including the objective medical evidence, the individual’s own
statements about symptoms, statements and other information provided by treating or examining
physicians…and any other relevant evidence in the case record.” SSR 96-7P, 1996 WL 374186,
at *1 (S.S.A. July 2, 1996). An ALJ cannot rely exclusively on objective evidence to undermine
a claimant’s subjective assertions of disabling pain. See Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858 (4th
Oddly, in this case, the ALJ essentially fails to evaluate Mr. Beckman’s assertions of
disabling neck pain. The ALJ does consider Listing 1.04, for spine disorders, and explains the
finding that the Listing has not been met. (Tr. 13). The ALJ also provides a lengthy and detailed
summary of Mr. Beckman’s medical appointments, many of which include descriptions of
continuing neck and back pain. (Tr. 16-25). However, when turning to an analysis of the
medical evidence, the ALJ focuses on cardiac-related appointments and information.
example, the ALJ asserts that the “treatment record does not support his allegations regarding the
severity of his limitations,” (Tr. 25), citing numerous appointments at which Mr. Beckman had
normal blood pressure and no heart symptoms. (Tr. 25-26). The ALJ does state that there were
“normal findings” on neck examinations at two of those appointments, but that type of objective
evidence alone cannot be used to undermine Mr. Beckman’s assertions of neck pain. (Tr. 2526). The ALJ further asserts that medications and treatment have effectively controlled Mr.
Beckman’s symptoms, citing the fact that Nitroglycerin improves his chest pains and wrist
splints help his CTS. (Tr. 26). Again, there is no mention of any of the treatment for his neck
pain and whether or not it is effective. The ALJ then establishes that Mr. Beckman has no side
effects from his medications. (Tr. 26). The ALJ suggests that Mr. Beckman is not compliant
with treatment because he does not measure his blood pressure, which has no relevance to neck
pain. (Tr. 27). Ultimately, the ALJ concludes that, “repeated physical examinations have failed
to reveal significant ongoing psychological, respiratory, or cardiac signs, or significant
neurological deficits or decreased strength or range of motion, as would be expected with the
degree of limitation alleged.” Id. Again, that conclusion makes no mention of pain.
In the absence of analysis of the alleged disabling pain, the ALJ’s opinion is not
susceptible to effective appellate review. Accordingly, remand is appropriate to allow the ALJ to
assess the primary reason that Mr. Beckman alleges he is unable to work. In recommending
remand, I express no opinion as to whether the ALJ’s ultimate conclusion that Mr. Beckman is
capable of substantial gainful employment is correct or incorrect.
Mr. Beckman’s other argument is less persuasive. The ALJ did not simply reject the
opinions of Kenneth W. Hawk, CRNP, and Jessica Livengood, PA-C, on the grounds that they
were non-acceptable medical sources. Id. Instead, the ALJ assessed the contents of each opinion
and explained the substantive reasons for the assignments of “little to no weight.”
Accordingly, the evaluation of those opinions does not provide an independent basis for remand.
For the reasons set forth above, I respectfully recommend that:
1. the Court DENY Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 18];
2. the Court DENY Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 15];
3. the Court REVERSE IN PART due to inadequate analysis the Commissioner’s
judgment pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
4. the Court REMAND this case for further proceedings in accordance with this
5. the Court close this case.
Any objections to this Report and Recommendations must be served and filed within
fourteen (14) days, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b) and Local Rule 301.5(b).
NOTICE TO PARTIES
Failure to file written objections to the proposed findings, conclusions, and
recommendations of the Magistrate Judge contained in the foregoing report within fourteen (14)
days after being served with a copy of this report may result in the waiver of any right to a de
novo review of the determinations contained in the report and such failure shall bar you from
challenging on appeal the findings and conclusions accepted and adopted by the District Judge,
except upon grounds of plain error.
Dated: August 17, 2017
Stephanie A. Gallagher
United States Magistrate Judge
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