Smith v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge Thomas M. DiGirolamo on 3/8/2017. (kns, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
Civil No. TMD 15-1106
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT’S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Plaintiff Linda Smith seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of a final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or the “Commissioner”) denying her
application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act.
Before the Court are Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 10) and Defendant’s
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15).2 Plaintiff contends that the administrative record
does not contain substantial evidence to support the Commissioner’s decision that she is not
disabled. No hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons that follow, Defendant’s Motion
On January 23, 2017, Nancy A. Berryhill became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security.
She is, therefore, substituted as Defendant in this matter. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Fed. R. Civ. P.
The Fourth Circuit has noted that, “in social security cases, we often use summary judgment as
a procedural means to place the district court in position to fulfill its appellate function, not as a
device to avoid nontriable issues under usual Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 standards.”
Walls v. Barnhart, 296 F.3d 287, 289 n.2 (4th Cir. 2002). For example, “the denial of summary
judgment accompanied by a remand to the Commissioner results in a judgment under sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which is immediately appealable.” Id.
for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15) is GRANTED, Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment
(ECF No. 10) is DENIED, and the Commissioner’s final decision is AFFIRMED.
Plaintiff was born in 1958, has a college education, and previously worked as a trainer,
administrative assistant, instructional designer, and personnel clerk. R. at 31-32, 233, 235, 237,
252. Plaintiff applied for DIB on January 19, 2012 (with a protective filing date of January 9,
2012), alleging disability beginning on October 28, 2011, due to fibromyalgia, insomnia, and
lupus. R. at 19, 191-97, 235. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff’s application initially and
again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). R. at 109-31, 134-43. On July 24, 2014, ALJ Jennifer M. Long held a hearing in
Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 41-68. On
September 3, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged
onset date of disability of October 28, 2011, through the date of the decision. R. at 14-40.
Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff’s request
for review on January 14, 2015. R. at 5-9, 13, 333-37. The ALJ’s decision thus became the final
decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; see also Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103,
106-07, 120 S. Ct. 2080, 2083 (2000).
On April 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the
Commissioner’s decision. Upon the parties’ consent, this case was transferred to a United States
Magistrate Judge for final disposition and entry of judgment.
The case subsequently was
reassigned to the undersigned. The parties have briefed the issues, and the matter is now fully
Summary of Evidence
State Agency Medical Consultants
On June 26, 2012, a state agency medical consultant, A.R. Totoonchie, M.D., assessed
Plaintiff’s physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 114-15. Dr. Totoonchie opined
that Plaintiff could (1) lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently;
(2) stand and/or walk for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) sit for about six
hours in an eight-hour workday; and (4) perform unlimited pushing and/or pulling. R. at 115.
Plaintiff had no postural, manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R.
On December 3, 2012, another state agency consultant, Karen Sarpolis, M.D., again
assessed Plaintiff’s physical RFC. R. at 127-29. Dr. Sarpolis opined that Plaintiff could (1) lift
and/or carry ten pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; (2) stand and/or walk for a total
of about four hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) sit for about six hours in an eight-hour
workday; and (4) perform unlimited pushing and/or pulling. R. at 128. Dr. Sarpolis opined that
Plaintiff occasionally could climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. R. at 128. Plaintiff
had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 128-29.
On December 8, 2012, Dr. Tanveer A. Padder conducted a consultative examination of
Plaintiff. R. at 31, 539-43. Dr. Padder noted Plaintiff’s
reported history of depression, anxiety, no prior psychiatric admission who has
not been working since October 2011 and after she was diagnosed with
fibromyalgia and other medical issues. She claimed that she tried to get back to
work but she was not able to and she attributes her inability to work on her
medical, as well as psychiatric symptoms, mostly on medical. She claims to be
very tired all the time and not able to tolerate a lot of sensory stimuli along with
chronic pain, anxiety. She has psychosomatic symptoms including headache and
insomnia. As per mini mental, there were no gross cognitive deficits.
R. at 541. “Her attention/concentration was fair although she could not do serial 7’s but was able
to do serial 3’s and able to spell the word world backwards.” R. at 541. “Her mini-mental score
was 27 out of 30.”
R. at 541. Dr. Padder’s diagnoses included depression not otherwise
specified, “[r]ule out anxiety/mood disorder secondary to medical problems.” R. at 542. Dr.
Padder also rated Plaintiff’s GAF at 55. R. at 542.3
On December 19, 2012, a state agency consultant, Dawn Jackson, Psy.D., using the
psychiatric review technique under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a, evaluated Plaintiff’s mental
impairments under Listings 12.04 and 12.06 relating to affective and anxiety-related disorders
(R. at 125-27). See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, §§ 12.04, 12.06. Among the opinions
reviewed by Dr. Jackson was Dr. Padder’s opinion from the December 2012 consultative
examination and GAF rating of 55. R. at 126. Dr. Jackson opined that, under paragraph B of the
applicable listings, Plaintiff’s mental impairments caused her to experience (1) no restriction in
activities of daily living; (2) mild difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) mild
difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and (4) no repeated episodes of
decompensation of extended duration. R. at 126. Dr. Jackson did not find evidence to establish
the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listings. R. at 126. Dr. Jackson
The GAF, or global assessment of functioning, scale rates psychological, social, and
occupational functioning; it is divided into ten ranges of functioning. Am. Psychiatric Ass’n,
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 32 (4th ed. text rev. 2000). A GAF
rating between 51 and 60 indicates moderate symptoms (e.g., flat affect and circumstantial
speech, occasional panic attacks) or moderate difficulty in social, occupational, or school
functioning (e.g., few friends, conflicts with peers or co-workers). Id. at 34. The current edition
of the manual eliminated the GAF scale for reasons including “its conceptual lack of clarity (i.e.,
including symptoms, suicide risk, and disabilities in its descriptors) and questionable
psychometrics in routine practice.” Am. Psychiatric Ass’n, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders 16 (5th ed. 2013).
ultimately found that “[t]here is no evidence of significant limitation in any [mental-health]related functional area. [Plaintiff’s mental-health] impairment is not severe.” R. at 126.
The ALJ reviewed Plaintiff’s testimony in her decision:
[Plaintiff] testified that she stopped working full-time in December 2006,
because she married and moved to England. After that, she only worked parttime on a military base in England. [Plaintiff] and her husband returned to the
United States in late 2009. Thereafter, she worked part-time in the summer of
2011 and subsequently obtained a full-time job. However, she indicated that she
was absent from this job too often due to fatigue, inability to concentrate and
headaches. She stopped working in October 2011.
She explained that she was diagnosed with lupus twenty-six years before
the hearing, but she did not describe a progression of the illness. Rather, she said
the condition had been inactive since 2007.
[Plaintiff] was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in the spring of 2010.
[Plaintiff] described fatigue on a daily basis and indicated she had to lie down and
rest after being up for about four hours. [Plaintiff] said she had pain throughout
her body and had to change positions frequently to [relieve] her body pain. She
said she could only sit for twenty minutes to an hour. She also said she had
trouble walking due to hip pain and trouble standing due to back pain, fatigue, and
headaches. She napped four or five days per week. She described that she
experienced pain in her arms and hands and dropped things.
R. at 27; see R. at 45-63.
The VE testified that a hypothetical person with Plaintiff’s same age, education, and
work experience who had the RFC outlined in Part III below could perform Plaintiff’s past work.
R. at 67. The VE’s testimony was consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.4 R. at
“The Social Security Administration has taken administrative notice of the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles, which is published by the Department of Labor and gives detailed physical
Summary of ALJ’s Decision
On September 3, 2014, the ALJ found that Plaintiff (1) had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date of disability of October 28, 2011; and (2) had an
impairment or a combination of impairments considered to be “severe” on the basis of the
requirements in the Code of Federal Regulations; but (3) did not have an impairment or a
combination of impairments meeting or equaling one of the impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R.
pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1; and (4) was able to perform her past relevant work as a trainer and
personnel clerk. R. at 22-32. The ALJ thus found that she was not disabled from October 28,
2011, through the date of the decision. R. at 32.
The ALJ found that Plaintiff’s fibromyalgia and lupus were severe impairments. R. at
22. The ALJ found, however, that Plaintiff’s migraines, insomnia, depression, and anxiety were
not severe impairments. R. at 22-25. In finding that Plaintiff’s affective and anxiety-related
disorders were not severe mental impairments, the ALJ found that Plaintiff experienced (1) no
limitation in activities of daily living; (2) no limitation in social functioning; (3) mild limitation
with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace; and (4) no episodes of decompensation of
extended duration. R. at 24-25. The ALJ ultimately found that Plaintiff had the RFC “to
requirements for a variety of jobs.” Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 n.8 (9th Cir. 2007);
see Pearson v. Colvin, 810 F.3d 204, 205 n.1 (4th Cir. 2015); DeLoatche v. Heckler, 715 F.2d
148, 151 n.2 (4th Cir. 1983); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566(d)(1). “Information contained in the
[Dictionary of Occupational Titles] is not conclusive evidence of the existence of jobs in the
national economy; however, it can be used to establish a rebuttable presumption.” English v.
Shalala, 10 F.3d 1080, 1085 (4th Cir. 1993).
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except with occasional postural
limitations.” R. at 26.5
The ALJ also considered Plaintiff’s credibility and found that her “medically
determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause symptoms; however, [her]
statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not
entirely credible for the reasons explained in this decision.” R. at 27. The ALJ gave greater
weight to Dr. Totoonchie’s opinion over Dr. Sarpolis’s opinion because “[a]n assessment for
light work is more consistent with [Plaintiff’s] improvement during physical therapy, her full 5/5
motor strength in all extremities after several months in therapy, and her moderate activity
level[.]” R. at 31 (citing R. at 407-89, 581-648). The ALJ also gave great weight to Dr.
Jackson’s opinion that Plaintiff’s mental impairments were not severe because “[i]t is consistent
with [Plaintiff’s] lack of regular or formal mental health treatment, her inconsistent use of
psychotropic medications, and the lack of clinical mental status findings or mental diagnoses in
her medical records[.]” R. at 31 (citing R. at 546-74, 581-648).
Disability Determinations and Burden of Proof
The Social Security Act defines a disability as the inability to engage in any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can
be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period
of not less than twelve months.
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R.
“Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying
of objects weighing up to 10 pounds.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). “Even though the weight lifted
may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing, or
when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls.”
§§ 404.1505, 416.905. A claimant has a disability when the claimant is “not only unable to do
his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in
any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists . . . in significant numbers either in the
region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.”
§§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
To determine whether a claimant has a disability within the meaning of the Social
Security Act, the Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process outlined in the
regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 24-25, 124
S. Ct. 376, 379-380 (2003). “If at any step a finding of disability or nondisability can be made,
the [Commissioner] will not review the claim further.” Thomas, 540 U.S. at 24, 124 S. Ct. at
379; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The claimant has the burden of production
and proof at steps one through four. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5, 107 S. Ct.
2287, 2294 n.5 (1987); Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 291 (4th Cir. 2013).
First, the Commissioner will consider a claimant’s work activity. If the claimant is
engaged in substantial gainful activity, then the claimant is not disabled.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i).
Second, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner
looks to see whether the claimant has a “severe” impairment, i.e., an impairment or combination
of impairments that significantly limits the claimant’s physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c),
404.1521(a), 416.920(c), 416.921(a).6
The ability to do basic work activities is defined as “the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do
most jobs.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521(b), 416.921(b). These abilities and aptitudes include
(1) physical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching,
Third, if the claimant has a severe impairment, then the Commissioner will consider the
medical severity of the impairment. If the impairment meets or equals one of the presumptively
disabling impairments listed in the regulations, then the claimant is considered disabled,
regardless of age, education, and work experience.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
404.1520(d), 416.920(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(d); see Radford, 734 F.3d at 293.
Fourth, if the claimant’s impairment is severe, but it does not meet or equal one of the
presumptively disabling impairments, then the Commissioner will assess the claimant’s RFC to
determine the claimant’s “ability to meet the physical, mental, sensory, and other requirements”
of the claimant’s past relevant work.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1545(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.945(a)(4). RFC is a measurement of the most a claimant can do despite
his or her limitations. Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 562 (4th Cir. 2006); see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1).
The claimant is responsible for providing evidence the
Commissioner will use to make a finding as to the claimant’s RFC, but the Commissioner is
responsible for developing the claimant’s “complete medical history, including arranging for a
consultative examination(s) if necessary, and making every reasonable effort to help [the
claimant] get medical reports from [the claimant’s] own medical sources.”
§§ 404.1545(a)(3), 416.945(a)(3). The Commissioner also will consider certain non-medical
evidence and other evidence listed in the regulations. See id. If a claimant retains the RFC to
perform past relevant work, then the claimant is not disabled.
Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv),
carrying, or handling; (2) capacities for seeing, hearing, and speaking; (3) understanding,
carrying out, and remembering simple instructions; (4) use of judgment; (5) responding
appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and usual work situations; and (6) dealing with changes
in a routine work setting. Id. §§ 404.1521(b)(1)-(6), 416.921(b)(1)-(6); see Yuckert, 482 U.S. at
141, 107 S. Ct. at 2291.
Fifth, if the claimant’s RFC as determined in step four will not allow the claimant to
perform past relevant work, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there is
other work that the claimant can do, given the claimant’s RFC as determined at step four, age,
education, and work experience. See Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472-73 (4th Cir. 2012).
The Commissioner must prove not only that the claimant’s RFC will allow the claimant to make
an adjustment to other work, but also that the other work exists in significant numbers in the
See Walls, 296 F.3d at 290; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy, then the Commissioner will find that the claimant is not
disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, then the Commissioner will
find that the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).
Substantial Evidence Standard
The Court reviews an ALJ’s decision to determine whether the ALJ applied the correct
legal standards and whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence. See
Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). In other words, the issue before the Court “is
not whether [Plaintiff] is disabled, but whether the ALJ’s finding that [Plaintiff] is not disabled is
supported by substantial evidence and was reached based upon a correct application of the
relevant law.” Id. The Court’s review is deferential, as “[t]he findings of the Commissioner of
Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Under this standard, substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but is
enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner’s conclusion.
See Hancock, 667 F.3d at 472; see also Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct.
1420, 1427 (1971).
In evaluating the evidence in an appeal of a denial of benefits, the court does “not
conduct a de novo review of the evidence,” Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir.
1986), or undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Hancock, 667 F.3d at 472. Rather, “[t]he
duty to resolve conflicts in the evidence rests with the ALJ, not with a reviewing court.” Smith v.
Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996). When conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to
differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the ALJ.
Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam).
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erroneously assessed her RFC contrary to Social Security
Ruling7 (“SSR”) 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184 (July 2, 1996). Pl.’s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 3-7,
ECF No. 10-1. Plaintiff maintains that the ALJ failed to perform properly a function-by-function
assessment of her ability to perform the physical and mental demands of work. Id. at 5. In
particular, she contends that the ALJ erroneously failed to include any limitations related to her
depression, anxiety, migraine headaches, and fatigue in the ALJ’s RFC assessment. Id. at 5-7.
Social Security Rulings are “final opinions and orders and statements of policy and
interpretations” that the Social Security Administration has adopted. 20 C.F.R. § 402.35(b)(1).
Once published, these rulings are binding on all components of the Social Security
Administration. Heckler v. Edwards, 465 U.S. 870, 873 n.3, 104 S. Ct. 1532, 1534 n.3 (1984);
20 C.F.R. § 402.35(b)(1). “While they do not have the force of law, they are entitled to
deference unless they are clearly erroneous or inconsistent with the law.” Pass, 65 F.3d at 1204
According to Plaintiff, substantial evidence thus does not support the ALJ’s decision. For the
reasons discussed below, Plaintiff’s assertions are unavailing.
SSR 96-8p explains how adjudicators should assess RFC and instructs that the RFC
“assessment must first identify the individual’s functional limitations or
restrictions and assess his or her work-related abilities on a function-by-function
basis, including the functions” listed in the regulations. “Only after that may
[residual functional capacity] be expressed in terms of the exertional levels of
work, sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy.” The Ruling further
explains that the residual functional capacity “assessment must include a narrative
discussion describing how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing specific
medical facts (e.g., laboratory findings) and nonmedical evidence (e.g., daily
Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th Cir. 2015) (alteration in original) (footnote omitted)
(citations omitted). The Fourth Circuit has held, however, that a per se rule requiring remand
when the ALJ does not perform an explicit function-by-function analysis “is inappropriate given
that remand would prove futile in cases where the ALJ does not discuss functions that are
‘irrelevant or uncontested.’” Id. (quoting Cichocki v. Astrue, 729 F.3d 172, 177 (2d Cir. 2013)
(per curiam)). Rather, remand may be appropriate “where an ALJ fails to assess a claimant’s
capacity to perform relevant functions, despite contradictory evidence in the record, or where
other inadequacies in the ALJ’s analysis frustrate meaningful review.” Id. (quoting Cichocki,
729 F.3d at 177). The court in Mascio concluded that remand was appropriate because it was
“left to guess about how the ALJ arrived at his conclusions on [the claimant’s] ability to perform
relevant functions” because the ALJ had “said nothing about [the claimant’s] ability to perform
them for a full workday,” despite conflicting evidence as to the claimant’s RFC that the ALJ did
not address. Id. at 637.
Plaintiff first contends that the ALJ erred in failing to include any limitation related to her
depression and anxiety in the ALJ’s RFC assessment, despite the findings from Dr. Padder’s
consultative psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff (R. at 539-43). Pl.’s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J.
5, ECF No. 10-1. As noted above, an impairment is considered “severe” if it significantly limits
the claimant's ability to work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a). The claimant bears the burden of
proving that his impairment is severe. See Pass, 65 F.3d at 1203. Here, the ALJ thoroughly
considered Plaintiff’s depression and anxiety at step two. R. at 24-26. The ALJ noted that
Plaintiff demonstrated no limitation in activities of daily living and social functioning; only mild
limitation in concentration, persistence, or pace; and no episodes of decompensation. R. at 25.
The ALJ cited to evidence in the record to support her conclusions regarding the paragraph B
criteria. R. at 25. The ALJ also clearly stated that, because Plaintiff’s mental impairments
caused no more than mild limitations in three of the four functional areas, her depression and
anxiety were not severe. R. at 25. The ALJ thus fairly concluded that the impairments did not
significantly limit Plaintiff’s ability to perform basic work activities. R. at 22, 25. Further, in
finding that Plaintiff’s mental impairments were not severe, the ALJ gave great weight to the
opinion of Dr. Jackson, who considered Dr. Padder’s findings, including Plaintiff’s GAF rating
of 55 (R. at 31, 126). Thus, Plaintiff’s contention that remand is warranted because the ALJ did
not evaluate Plaintiff’s GAF rating of 55 in her decision is unavailing. See Bryant v. Colvin, 571
F. App’x 186, 190 (4th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (finding harmless error in ALJ’s failure to
discuss consultative examiner’s report because report was discussed by state agency consultants,
whose opinions were given “great weight” by ALJ, and was consistent with medical evidence on
record); Torres v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., Civil No. SAG-15-3294, 2016 WL 5108022, at *3
(D. Md. Sept. 20, 2016).
Plaintiff next asserts that the ALJ erred in failing to include in the RFC assessment any
limitation related to her migraine headaches and fatigue. Pl.’s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 5-7,
ECF No. 10-1. As Defendant points out, however, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that her
migraine headaches and fatigue limited her to a greater extent than the ALJ found. Def.’s Mem.
Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 9-10, ECF No. 15-1. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s finding that
medication was effective in treating Plaintiff’s headaches. R. at 492. Even if there is other
evidence that may support Plaintiff’s position, the Court is not permitted to reweigh the evidence
or to substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ. See Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456
(4th Cir. 1990). In any event, because Plaintiff “has failed to point to any specific piece of
evidence not considered by the Commissioner that might have changed the outcome of [her]
disability claim,” her argument in this regard thus is unavailing. Reid v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
769 F.3d 861, 865 (4th Cir. 2014).
Even if the ALJ had erred in her evaluation of Plaintiff’s depression, anxiety, migraine
headaches, and fatigue at step two, such error would be harmless. Because Plaintiff made the
threshold showing that her fibromyalgia and lupus constituted severe impairments, the ALJ
continued with the sequential evaluation process and properly considered all of the impairments,
both severe and non-severe, that significantly impacted Plaintiff’s ability to work. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1523. Any step-two error thus does not require remand.
Plaintiff finally maintains that remand is warranted because the ALJ failed to address the
frequency and duration of her symptoms. Pl.’s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 7, ECF No. 10-1.
Plaintiff’s argument is without merit, however (see R. at 26-30), and she again fails to point to
any evidence not considered by the ALJ that would have changed the administrative result. See
Reid, 769 F.3d at 865.
In sum, substantial evidence supports the decision of the ALJ, who applied the correct
legal standards here.
Thus, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED,
Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED, and the Commissioner’s final decision is
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15) is
Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 10) is DENIED. The
Commissioner’s final decision is AFFIRMED. A separate order shall issue.
Date: March 8, 2017
Thomas M. DiGirolamo
United States Magistrate Judge
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