United States District Court, District of Columbia
GARY D. WORKMAN Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, in her official capacity as Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant.
S. Chutkan United States District Judge
Gary Workman seeks reversal of a June 8, 2012 decision by an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denying him both
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income benefits (“SSI”).
This action was assigned to Magistrate Judge Kay for full
case management, and after reviewing Plaintiff's motion
for judgment of reversal, as well as Defendant's motion
for judgment on the pleadings, Judge Kay issued a Report and
Recommendation (“Report”), recommending that the
court grant both motions in part and deny them in part.
Plaintiff timely objected to the Report. Upon consideration
of the record in this case, the Report, and the objections
and responses thereto, the Court hereby adopts the Magistrate
Judge's Report. The Court further accepts Judge Kay's
Recommendation, and denies Plaintiff's appeal of the
first applied for DIB and SSI on December 20, 2007.
(Administrative Record (“AR”) 258, 266). Both of
these applications were denied. (Id. 160, 163).
Plaintiff then requested reconsideration, and appeared before
an ALJ on May 24, 2010. (Id. 92-132). The ALJ issued
a decision on July 11, 2010, finding Plaintiff not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Id.
137-153). Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council, which
vacated the ALJ's decision on October 28, 2011, and
remanded both the DIB and SSI applications to the ALJ.
(Id. 155-57, 2015).
had a second hearing on May 17, 2012, and the ALJ denied both
applications in a June 8, 2012 decision. (Id.
41-60). Plaintiff again appealed to the Appeals Council,
which denied Plaintiff's request for a second rehearing.
(Id. 1-4). After the second denial, Plaintiff filed
a new application for SSI, which included evidence he had not
previously provided; that application was ultimately
approved. (Pl. Mot. to Reverse at 2).
suit challenged the June 8, 2012 adverse ruling, arguing that
had he been found to be disabled as of December 31, 2009, his
benefits would have been tied to earning records from that
date, resulting in a significantly higher monthly income.
(Id.). He claimed that the ALJ erred on two grounds.
First, the ALJ's determination of his Residual Functional
Capability (“RFC”) was erroneous because: (1) the
ALJ did not properly evaluate evidence of Plaintiff's
trigger fingers; (2) the ALJ's determination that
Plaintiff could not perform light work was not supported by
substantial evidence; and (3) the Appeals Council improperly
disregarded additional evidence supporting a more restrictive
RFC. (Id. at 1). Second, he argued that the ALJ
erred by failing to accurately describe Plaintiff's
finger and hand limitations in the hypothetical questions
posed to the Vocational Expert. (Id.).
Kay's Report found that the ALJ's evaluation of
Plaintiff's trigger fingers was unsupported by
substantial evidence, since the ALJ did not address, nor give
controlling weight to, the findings by two of Plaintiff's
treating physicians that Plaintiff had abnormal functioning
in his upper extremities and fingers. (Report at 11). Judge
Kay recommended that the case be remanded solely for further
factual development of the impact Plaintiff's trigger
fingers would have on any disability finding, but denied the
rest of Plaintiff's motion for reversal, finding the ALJ
did not err in his other determinations, or in his
questioning of the Vocational Expert. (Id. at
12-18). Judge Kay also denied Defendant's motion for
judgment on the pleadings as to the trigger fingers issue,
but granted it as to Plaintiff's remaining issues.
(Id. at 18).
now challenges the Report on three bases. First, he argues
that Judge Kay's findings regarding his trigger fingers
require a finding of disability, not a remand to the Agency
for further factual development. Second, he argues that Judge
Kay's recommendation upholding the ALJ's findings
with respect to Plaintiff's knee impairments is
unsupported by substantial evidence. Third, he argues that
Judge Kay misconstrued the standard under which new evidence
can be received by the Appeals Council. Plaintiff does not
challenge Judge Kay's finding that the hypotheticals the
ALJ posed to the Vocational Expert were not deficient and did
not prejudice Plaintiff.
Magistrate Judge issues a recommendation for a dispositive
motion, the “district judge must determine de
novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition
that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
72(b)(3). The judge may then “accept, reject, or modify
the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or
return the matter to the magistrate judge with
order to receive disability benefits, a claimant must prove
that he or she is unable “to engage in any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result
in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42
U.S.C. § 423 (d)(1)(A). The disability must be so severe
that 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 the national economy, regardless
of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.”
Id. § 423 (d)(2)(A). “The claimant must
support his claim of impairment with ‘[o]bjective
medical evidence' that is ‘established by medically
acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic
techniques.'” Espinosa v. Colvin, 953
F.Supp.2d 25, 31 (D.D.C. 2013) (citing 42 U.S.C. §
Social Security Administration's evaluation of a
disability claim follows a five step inquiry: (1) Is the
claimant engaged in substantial gainful work? (2) Does the
claimant have a severe impairment? (3) Does the impairment
equate to a listed disability in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1? (4) Is the claimant able to return to their
relevant past work, despite suffering the impairment? (5) Can
the claimant perform any other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy? Brown v.
Bowen, 794 F.2d 703, 705-706 (D.C. Cir. 1986).
“Between the third and fourth step, the SSA uses the
entire record to make a determination of the claimant's
residual functional capacity (‘RFC'), which is
‘the most [the claimant] can still do despite [the]
limitations' caused by the impairment.”
Espinosa, 953 F.Supp.2d at 31. If, during the fourth
step, the Plaintiff's RFC indicates that they are able to
“return to their relevant past work”, then the
claimant is not disabled. Id. Similarly, if, during
the fifth step, the claimant's RFC shows they can adapt
to “other work that exists in the national economy,
” then they are not disabled. Id. (citing 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1545(a)(5)(ii)).
“During these first four steps, the claimant bears the
burden of proof. At the fifth and final stage, the burden
shifts to the Secretary to show that the individual, based
upon his or her age, education, work experience, and residual
functional capacity, is capable of performing gainful
work.” Brown, 794 F.2d at 705-06.
a disability proceeding, the ALJ ‘has the power and the
duty to investigate fully all matters in issue, and to
develop the comprehensive record required for a fair
determination of disability.'” Butler v.
Barnhart, 353 F.3d 992, 999 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (internal
quotations omitted). Therefore, a reviewing court will not
overturn the findings of the Commissioner if they are
“supported by substantial evidence and [are] not
tainted by an error of law.” Smith v. Bowen,
826 F.2d 1120, 1121 (D.C. Cir. 1987); see also 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence “is
‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'”
Butler, 353 F.3d at 999 (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). A reviewing court in
a substantial-evidence case must engage in “careful
scrutiny of the entire record.” Brown, 794
F.2d at 705 (internal citation omitted).